Monday, April 19, 2010

Easter Changes Everything: Who's My Master?

OK, I've been meaning to post my Easter and post-Easter messages since, well Easter, so it's time I did. Today, the message from Easter Sunday. By the way, the fact that the text skews to the right is a result of the fact that I print messages with a narrow column to make it easier for the eye (that is, my eye) to read it in the pulpit.

Easter Changes Everything:

Part One: Who’s My Master?

John 20:24-31

This week, we start the theme “Easter Changes Everything.” Does it really? If we think of Easter as a holiday of flowers and bunnies, well no, that doesn’t change much, does it? But if we go back to the story that began it all, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, well, that really does changes everything!

How does that change everything? Well, if Jesus really did die on a cross, if He was buried, and then three days later rose from the dead, it really changes everything. There was a time, when I was a teenager, and I was an atheist, but if Jesus really rose from the dead, well that doesn’t happen all by itself; if He rose from the dead, then atheism can’t be right. God must be real, if Jesus rose from the dead. That changes a lot right there.

Not only that, if He rose from the dead, then it shakes you up if you follow some other faith. Buddha’s tomb is occupied; so is Muhammad’s, the founders of Hinduism and secular religions like Marxism and Fascism. If Jesus rose from the dead, then all these others are dead-ends. That changes a lot, doesn’t it?

If you go a butcher and buy a side of beef, you’ll find the stamp, “USDA Approved” on the meat. The resurrection of Jesus is like a big stamp of approval from God on His life and ministry, on all His teachings and on all His claims, saying “Approved by God!”

Romans 1:4 says of Jesus Christ,

…and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

One of the purposes of the resurrection was just that: to prove that He was who He said He was—God in the flesh, the Son of God.

So over the next five weeks, we’re going to explore the implications of the resurrection in five areas: today, asking the question, “Who’s my master?” Next week, we’ll look at “My outlook on life.” The third week is about “My relationships.” The fourth is “My life’s passion” and the last week is crucial—it’s on “How I face death.”

Today the focus is on “Who’s My Master?” That same verse, Romans 1:4, says that the resurrection establishes who Jesus is: “Jesus Christ our Lord.” Lord! There was no mistaking who Jesus is after His resurrection. Before His death, burial and resurrection, you could mistake Him for a prophet, a teacher, a revolutionary, a self-deluded nutcase or a bold-faced liar. But the resurrection blows all that away. The resurrection changes the equation. The only sense I can make of Him now is to call Him Lord. If He rose from the dead, He must be Lord!

All four gospels tell stories of the risen Lord. There’s a whole lot of drama in the first day, on the first Easter. The tomb is opened, the guards freak out, the women come and find the tomb empty, and some of them run off to tell the apostles. One of them hangs back, sees Jesus, who then takes off before Peter and John get there. Then that afternoon, a couple of disciples walk with Him on the road to Emmaus; He goes again and meets up with the apostles in Jerusalem. The disciples get a major attitude adjustment. But not all of them; one was missing.

Who wasn’t there? His name is Thomas, and the poor guy has been known as “Doubting Thomas” ever since. It’s really not fair; the guy was a real trooper and showed a lot of faith and grit on other occasions. To top it off, church history strongly suggests that in the years to come, he was one fantastic missionary, going as far as India with the good news about Jesus.

You can read his story in the gospel of John 20:24-31. The background is vs. 24-25:

24Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!"
But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."

Now, I don’t know where Thomas went off to; it was a dangerous time and maybe he left Jerusalem first thing Sunday morning (the first time he as an observant Jew could have traveled after the Sabbath day).

But somehow, the other disciples get word to him and he says, “I never some heavy duty proof!” Didn’t he believe the other disciples? We’ll I can’t get into his head. Maybe he was stuck where some of the disciples were when they first saw Jesus. Luke 24:37 tells us that when some of the disciples first saw the risen Jesus, they said, “It’s a ghost!” Just about everybody at that time in history believed in ghosts—the spirits of the dead hanging around for a while—and the apostles were no exception. Just to prove he wasn’t a ghost, that passage says that Jesus had some fish to eat. No, He’s not a ghost, but a real man, raised from the dead, resurrected.

So Thomas wants some proof. A week later, he gets it. He’s back with the other disciples, back in Jerusalem on a Sunday when…well, let’s read it from John 20:26-28:

26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

28Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

Now this is so fascinating. Jesus just shows up—He could come and go at will. Locked doors didn’t matter. But that didn’t mean that He was a spirit—He was solid flesh who could eat and touch things and be touched. No wonder His presence was so awesome that He greets them with “Shalom!”—“Peace be with you.”

Jesus comes, and calls out Thomas. “Go ahead, stick your hand in the wounds. Stop doubting and believe.”

What Jesus says here is fascinating. If you translated it very, very literally, it’s “Stop becoming unbelieving and get on with becoming believing.” He sees Thomas’ faith as fluid, and He urging Him to change the momentum of his faith, from sliding away toward unbelief to moving ahead in faith—based the reality that stands before him—the risen Jesus.

Did Thomas have no faith before? Sure he did. Sure he had faith. He’s been with Jesus and seen some pretty amazing things for the best part of three years. At one point, he even bravely said that if Jesus had to die, the apostles should be ready to die with Him. These aren’t the words of someone without faith. But there was a part of his faith that wasn’t complete, not yet, until he encountered the risen Jesus.

Some of you have faith just like Thomas. You’ve heard all the stories about Jesus and you like Him. But your faith isn’t complete, not yet.

In the Bible, faith isn’t a simple on-off switch: it’s not like you either have it, or you don’t. It’s progressive. Faith is fluid, and works its way through the dimensions of truth, allegiance and freedom.

A few years ago, on a Sunday morning, I spent some time talking with a woman out there in the lobby following a worship service. She wanted some help on some issues in her life, but some of the things she was saying made me wonder if she had ever put her faith in Jesus.

I’d never met her before that day, and discovered that she went back to her home country not long after this conversation. I noticed that she wore a wedding band. “How long have you been married?” I asked. About 10 years. I asked her how long she knew her husband before they got married. About 3 years, she told me.

Then I asked her—what changed the day she and her husband got married? Well, their plans had changed from an intention to a commitment, and now they shared their lives together.

So I asked her—are you just dating Jesus, or have you married Him? Have you given Him your life? Did you ever say, “I do” to Jesus. She must have been silent for half a minute before she said “I’m guess I’m just dating Jesus.”

She had faith, but it wasn’t allegiance faith; it wasn’t commitment faith; it wasn’t “I do” faith. She believed the facts about Jesus, but she wasn’t committed to Him, at least not yet.

Before Thomas saw Jesus in that room a week after the resurrection, he was stuck on a level of faith that was real; it just wasn’t enough. It was real; it just wasn’t complete. Jesus met him that day to bring him up to the next level, the level of commitment and allegiance.

Hey, could it be that today, that Jesus brought you here to take you up to the next level of faith? Could it be on this Easter, 1,980 later, that Jesus is saying to you, your faith can be the kind that transforms?

I used three terms a few minutes ago to suggest the dimensions of real faith: truth, allegiance and freedom. They don’t always come in that order; the order is not the main thing. The fact that you’re here is probably because you have some kind of faith in Jesus. The question is, is it more like Thomas before or after this encounter with Jesus? Because something incredible is about to happen with Thomas. It’s like he pole-vaults over the other disciples. The whole truth about Jesus just comes over him—the truth, the allegiance and the freedom that comes from faith.

Look at vs. 28:

Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

Remember Romans 1:4? The resurrection is God’s way of saying that Jesus Christ is Lord—remember? Thomas gets this in a second, a holy flash of insight of both truth about who Jesus is, and total and unconditional allegiance. Thomas doesn’t say “You are the Lord and God!” He says “My Lord and my God!” As a matter of fact, when I read this, I always imagine Thomas going down on his knees. At that second, Thomas knew the rest of his life was going to be all about serving this risen Jesus.

Thomas never wondered again—who is my master? He knew it was Jesus of Nazareth. In the same way, Easter makes us face the question—who is my master, my Lord, my boss? And the only worthy answer is Jesus, the Risen King. Nothing else, no one else, can match His worthiness in the role of Lord of my life. No one else has that resurrection stamp of approval. That’s what Thomas got that day, and that’s the opportunity we all have today—to see and understand and love and pledge joyful allegiance to this Jesus, the unique, the unmatched, the one and only.

Truth, allegiance and freedom—when you encounter the real risen Jesus, you come to believe that He tells the truth and that He really is truth embodied. Jesus says as much in John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” You give Him your full allegiance, as Thomas did that day. And you experience the freedom that comes from Him. In John 8:31-32, Jesus says,

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Truth frees! And the greater the truth, the greater the freedom. Real faith brings us to that place of freedom and truth and commitment and love and acceptance and purpose. You can’t beat it.

Now, the story of Thomas isn’t over. He’s confessed his full faith in Jesus, the crucified God now alive and reigning as Lord, but Jesus says something beautiful and powerful and meant for you and me. Isn’t it great to think that at this moment, He was thinking of you and me? Let’s read on, John 20:29-31:

29Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Then John comments…

30Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus invited Thomas, and John invites us all, to cross a bridge of faith, to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and to have life in His name. Come cross the bridge! It’s a sturdy bridge—really, Jesus Himself is the bridge; all the promises of God are in the bridge. It’s not a crazy jungle vine bridge 1,000 feet up above hungry crocodiles. It’s the bridge from where you are now to where God wants you to be. It’s a bridge from no faith, or incomplete faith, to the faith that Thomas received on that day.

It’s a bridge to life. Just like Thomas cried out that day, “My Lord and my God,” the time has to come when we, each one, individually, crosses the bridge of faith in Jesus Christ to receive “life in His name”.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need something concrete, something I can see, for me to get these truths right. Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

No, I can’t show you Jesus today the way Jesus showed Himself to Thomas, and Jesus says that’s not all bad: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Both Thomas, and you and I, are called to consider real things which happened in Jerusalem those many years ago—a bloody cross, an empty tomb, a risen Lord. And we must decide, will we follow this Man? Will we cross the bridge of faith today and follow Jesus? Will we come to Him to have our sins forgiven and receive the gift of life from Him?

That’s why we have this bridge here today. It makes the decision to follow Him simple, visual and concrete. On one side, there is the gray of doubt and uncertainty; on the other side the white of clarity and forgiveness. In between there is the red of the blood Jesus shed on the cross. I want to invite you this day to come and cross the bridge to life. I invite you to come in from the shadows into the light, where you see Jesus and say, “My Lord and my God!”

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