March 29, 2020 ONLY THE CROSS John 3:14-21 Let me start this morning with a story: There was a mountain school that had a hard time keeping a teacher, because there was a group of big, rough boys who took pride in running the teacher off and the biggest and roughest of them all was named Tom. The school hired a new young teacher who won over the boys by letting them write the rules for the school--which were to be strictly enforced with a rod. For example, cheating would be punished with five strokes of the rod and stealing with ten strokes, both to be given with the offender's coat off. Everything went well until one day Tom's lunch was stolen. A frail little boy in hand-me-down clothes that were too big for him admitted his guilt. The school demanded that he be whipped. When the teacher called the little fellow up front, he came whimpering and begging to leave his coat on. The pupils insisted he obey the rules and take off his coat. When he did, a deathly silence settled over the room, for he had no shirt on and his emaciated body looked like skin stretched over bones. The teacher gasped and dropped the rod. He knew he could never whip that little boy. Suddenly, big Tom strode up and stood between the two. "I'll take it for him, Teacher, for after all it was my lunch he stole." He shrugged out of his coat. At the third blow the switch broke, and the teacher threw it in the corner and said, "That's all, school dismissed." The frail little boy laid his hand on big Tom's arm and through his tears said, "Thank you, Tom, it would have killed me." Who could help but be moved to gratitude by someone willing to take your place--take your punishment--suffer your consequences? "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son..." Does that move you to gratitude? Does that cause you to re-think the meaning of your own life? Have we heard those words so often that they no longer have any impact? George Buttrick once wrote, "The magnetism of the Cross so strangely persists as to indicate a miracle. For why should anyone today trouble himself about a peasant hung in an obscure land many centuries gone?" An anonymous poet put it like this: Under an Easter sky, amid a rabble cry, A man went forth to die…for me! Thorn-crowned His blessed head, Blood-stained His every tread, Cross-laden on He sped…for me! Pierced through His hands and feet, Three hours o'er Him did beat Fierce rays of noontide heat…for me! Thus were Thou made all mine Lord make me wholly thine, Give grace and strength divine…to me! In thought and word and deed, thy will to do; oh! lead my feet Even though they bleed…to Thee. I am sure some people may wonder was Christ’s death necessary, was there no other way? When I read church history that question has been pondered many times through the centuries. If we take a few moments and reflect I think we will see there was no other way! First and foremost is Jesus would not ask his disciples to pay a greater price than he was willing to pay. If we look at Stephen as the stones rip his flesh and think about Peter as he dies crucified upside down as tradition tells us. Through history we read that many followers of Christ were burned as living torches in Nero's gardens or torn apart by wild animals in the gladiator's arena. Only a soft, sentimental unrealistic faith would conjure the supposition that there was any other way for Jesus but the way of the cross. This is a hard world. The affluence and security of our land shelter us from that truth. Many people through the ages have given their lives for what they believe. In the earliest days of our country, George Washington attempted to direct a small force of men against various groups that were attacking isolated homesteads. Survivors of burnings and scalpings often came to his headquarters. Washington cried out, "I would offer myself a willing sacrifice to the butchering enemy provided that would contribute to the peoples' ease . . . If bleeding and dying would glut their insatiate revenge, I would be a willing offering to savage fury, and die by inches to save a people." The father of our country was not called to make that sacrifice, but many thousands--perhaps millions have. It may be that the scandal and tragedy of our land and our times is that there is nothing for which people will give their lives. We are so accustomed to comfort and convenience that it would be very difficult for many of us to pay the ultimate penalty for our faith, but Christ did! The second reason why there was no other way was without the cross we could not see the destructiveness of sin in the world. It is always a tragedy when someone dies before his or her time. Many years ago, newspapers and magazines throughout the world carried the story of the suicide of Freddie Prinze. At the age of twenty-two Prinze had attained one of the highest status roles in show business. He was the darling of television and had just performed for an incoming president at the Inaugural gala in Washington. Yet something was terribly wrong in the life of this talented comedian. A close friend, comedian David Brenner, explained to Time magazine, "There was no transition in Freddie's life. It was an explosion. It's tough to walk off a subway at age 19 and then step out of a Rolls Royce the next day." Producer James Komack, also a close confidant, said, "Freddie saw nothing around that would satisfy him. He would ask me ‘Is this what it is? Is this what it's all about?'" Mr. Komack said, "His real despondency, whether he could articulate it or not, concerned the questions: `Where do I fit in? Where is my happiness? We are almost always touched by the tragic death of a young person--whether by disease or accident or murder. Jesus was only 33 when he died upon Calvary. Falsely accused, bitterly reviled and yet guilty of no wrong. A healer and helper, a lover of little children, and a liberator of people imprisoned by their own sin and guilt, a man who knew God intimately enough to address him as "Abba," daddy, and yet never lost his concern for the least and the lowest. Yet there he hangs on the cross of Calvary, and it was sin that put him there--your sin and my sin. For many of us sin can be a meaningless term. We do not perceive that there is an enemy within our gates, a betrayer in our hearts, a demon within our consciousness, that can bring inconceivable tragedy into our lives. We chuckle when someone sings, "I was sinking deep in sin!" But the cross shows us that sin is no casual matter. Sin is the enemy of our bodies, of our marriages, of our relations with one another and with God. There was no other way for God to show us that except on Calvary. But there is one more reason why there was no other way but the cross. There was no other way for God to show the depth and the width of his love except by the gift of his Son. 1 John 4:10 says, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." Corrie Ten Boom put it like this: "In the forest fire, there is always one place where the fire cannot reach. It is the place where the fire has already burned itself out. Calvary is the place where the fire of God's judgment against sin burned itself out completely. It is there that we are safe." "What wondrous love is this, O my soul," writes the poet. "That caused the Lord of bliss to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, to lay aside his crown for my soul." That is why the cross had to be. Jesus could not ask his disciples to make a sacrifice he was not willing to make himself. There was no other way to reveal the awfulness of man's sin and the awesomeness of God's love. Of course, the challenge that each of us faces is to respond in faith to that love and that is my challenge to you this week…to respond to His love by recommitting yourself to Him, by recognizing the sacrifice made for us and remembering that great love He had for you!
March 22, 2020 DOUBTSTORMS Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. I heard a story about an Arab chief who spoke of a spy who was captured and then sentenced to death by a general in the Persian army. The general had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and the big, black door. As the moment for execution drew near, the spy was brought before the general, who asked the question, “What will it be: the firing squad or the big, black door?” The spy hesitated for a long time – it was a difficult decision – he chose the firing squad. Moments later the shots rang out confirming his execution. The general turned to his aide and said, “They always prefer the know way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the unknown. Yet, we gave him a choice.” The aide said, “What lies behind the big, black door? Freedom,” replied the general. “I’ve known only a few brave people enough to take it!” Let me ask you this question…how brave do you feel this morning? We are living in a time of fear and anxiety not known for many decades! We do have a choice this morning…live in fear or live in hope! I am certain there are many around us today and even listening to this live broadcast that wonder where God is during this time. The doubts of why God isn’t doing something brings the doubtstorms into our lives but we must stand firm in our faith in God! I was reading a book by Max Lucado called, “In the Eye of the Storm” and he writes these words, “Sometimes I wonder, how can our world get so chaotic?” (p. 125) If you haven’t noticed our world is very chaotic today! I truly believe that fear is the driving motivation behind the chaos. During this chaotic period, we have a tendency to either draw on our faith or we let our doubtstorms and fears run amok! We need not allow the doubtstorms to control our lives this morning! I am like most of you this morning…watching from an internet connection is not the same as being together as the body of Christ. It is quite different for myself as well as many of us pastors who are used to looking at people’s faces and seeing the smiles but also the hurts that confront each of us every day on Sunday mornings! I am reminded of a song in our Methodist hymnal called, “We are the Church” and I want to share some of the lyrics: I am the church! You are the church! We are the church together! All who follow Jesus, all around the world! Yes, we’re the church together! The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people. This morning let’s remember to cast away the doubtstorms and put our trust in One who will never leave nor forsake us! Each of us today no matter what denomination you attend are the church of Jesus Christ! Let us not allow the doubtstorms to sweep away what it is we believe! Max Lucado again writes these words in his book, The Eye of the Storm, “Doubtstorms: turbulent days when the enemy is too big, the task is too great, the future is too bleak, and the answers too few.” (p. 127) We question God by asking: Where are you when the storms come marching in like a hurricane? Where are you when people’s lives are being lost? Where are you when we cannot find the cure for the chaos that is running rampant today? Let me answer that for you: He is there and always has been! He has never left us even when we have doubtstorms, when we feel like God is millions of miles away, when we feel like everything is lost…He is there! In Exodus 14:11, it says, “Then they turned against Moses and complained, ‘Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt? (NLT) When we are afraid and fearful, we begin to doubt! When we doubt ourselves, we doubt God, we doubt other people and we become skeptical. The Children of Israel had seen God perform amazing miracles before their very eyes and yet doubt and fear set in and they became skeptical of God’s providence. Despite what they had gone through God was still there guiding them by day as a cloud and at night by a pillar of fire! I am here to let you know and to encourage you to understand that God is still in control He is still at the helm of the good ol’ Ship of Zion! We need not fear…what we need to do is trust in the hope that God will continue to do what is best for His people! I remember another hymn called, “Stand by Me” and I would like to share a couple of those lyrics: When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the world is tossing me like a ship upon the sea, Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me. In the midst of tribulation, stand by me. In the midst of tribulation, stand by me. When the hosts of hell assail And my strength begins to fail, Thou Who never lost a battle, stand by me. I hope these words have encouraged you this morning! The writer was well aware of the storms, tribulations and doubtstorms that each of face every day! Let me share these words with you from Isaiah 40:31 that says, “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings of eagles; they will run and not grow weary they will walk and not faint.” We have hope in Jesus this morning not fear and doubt! Our lives are not dependent upon others, but it is dependent upon Christ this morning. When fear and panic come upon us we, sometimes, miss the blessings that God presents to us! Max Lucado again says, “…because we look for the bonfire, we miss the candle. Because we listen for the shout, we miss the whisper. But it is in burnished candles that God comes, and through whispered promises He speaks: ‘When you doubt, look around: I am closer than you think.” (p.131) Don Moen wrote the words to this song, “God Will Make A Way” and I want to share this lyric with you: God will make a way Where there seems to be no way He works in ways we cannot see He will make a way for me He will be my Guide Hold me closely to His side With love and strength for each new day He will make a way, He will make a way. This is my promise to you…God will make a way, He will remove those doubtstorms you are facing through this difficult time and He will come to you and give His peace, the “peace that passes all understanding.”
March 15, 2020 LOVE WRITTEN IN BLOOD SERIES (3): CHRIST’S BLOOD SAVES WHOEVER John 3:16 As we look at this passage, we see in the latter part of John 3:16 these words, “…that WHOEVER believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” I want to ask you this question, who was Jesus talking about? He was talking about everyone!! The Blood of Jesus gives salvation for all. Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” 1 Peter 1:18-19, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” 1 John 1:7, “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.” When Abraham Lincoln’s body was brought from Washington, DC, to Illinois, it passed through Albany, NY and it was carried through the street. They say a black woman stood upon the curb and lifted her little son as far as she could reach above the heads of the crowd and was heard to say to him, “Take a long look, honey. He died for you!” So, if I could, I would have you lift your eyes to Calvary and take a long, long look…He died for all. The outcast, the invisible, the unlovable, the unworthy, the disgraced, the adulterer, the liar, the sinner!! The Blood of Jesus was God’s plan of salvation for all. God had a plan for our redemption that went beyond the Day of Atonement sacrifice, it was a once for all Sacrifice for all time for all of mankind. The plan went like this: God would pour out his judgment against our sins on His Son, who in loving faithfulness to His Father and out of love for us was willing to die on the cross. He took our sin so that we might be clothed in righteousness. 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” Through faith, we can stand before God’s holy throne as righteous as Jesus himself, because the righteousness in which we stand clothed there is Jesus’ righteousness. By Christ’s shed blood, we are released, let loose and set free from our sins. By his blood, we can overcome the evil one, since none of his claims against us can condemn us! The Blood of Jesus was God’s remedy of sin for all. At the world’s fair in Chicago there was a Congress of the World’s Religions. One by one each representative stood and expounded the virtues of their religion. Finally, Joseph Cook, the representative of Christianity stood to speak, everyone wondered what he would say that could match the wonderful teachings of the other religions. When he stood, Cook brought a pointed message on sin and its effect. When he concluded he asked a question, “Do any of you have a remedy for sin?” All were silent. Then Cook said, “Christianity has the remedy for sin, ‘the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.’” Whatever sin a person has committed in the past the blood of Jesus can cleanse it. People want to reform, change their way of living, turn over a new leaf, but the problem is their past record. We still have to deal with the past. Our sins must be erased with the blood of Jesus. Listen to some promises from God’s Word: Psalm 103:12, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Romans 5:6, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” 2 Corinthians 5:15, “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Revelation 5:9, “And they sang a new song; ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” The Christian life is a battle and the only victory we have is claiming the blood of Jesus for cleansing. The blood of Jesus not only cleanses a person when he/she is saved, but it cleanses daily. Lehman Strauss said, “There is a scarlet cord that moves throughout the Bible, that binds every page, every word, every line, every chapter and that scarlet cord ends at Calvary.” (www.lifequoteslib.com/authros/lehman-strauss) The penalty for sin is death as we read in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…” Know this today that Jesus paid your sin debt with His own blood! We are alive in Christ today and we need to shout it from top of our lungs that He is alive, and He saves to the uttermost! I want to close with this story: The blood of Christ delivers us from the stain of sin because it assures us of the love of God. Somewhere in England there is a cathedral with two graves, and over them are the effigies of a crusader knight and his lady. The exquisite effigy of the lady, however, is without a right hand. The tradition is that in the wars of the crusades this knight was captured by the Moslem conqueror, Saladin. When the knight besought Saladin to spare his life for the sake of the love which his lady in England bore him, Saladin scoffed at him and said that she would soon forget him and marry another. Assured that she would never do that, Saladin asked for a proof. He said that if the lady sent him her right hand, he would release the knight from the sentence of death. A letter to this effect reached the lady in England, who promptly had her right hand cut off and sent to the Moslem conqueror. When Saladin saw it, he set the knight free and sent him back to England. The severed hand was the proof of great love. So, the blood of Christ, which was shed for our redemption, is the proof that God loves us; and that knowledge gives us hope. (www.moreillustration.com/illustrations/blood)
March 8, 2020 LOVE WRITTEN IN BLOOD SERIES (2): CHRIST’S BLOOD PROVES GOD’S LOVE John 3:16 Remember last week as I shared about the little boy who was willing to give a blood transfusion to his little sister thinking he was going to die? That little boy thought his sister’s life was important and perhaps not meaning to…he proved his love for his sister by making that sacrifice for her. Real love gives. Someone said, “You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.” John 3:16 proves this as well: “For God so LOVED…that he GAVE…” When we think of Christ’s love for us, we find the proof in His blood sacrifice. There was a Legal Requirement. In Moses’ day, God instituted a system of sacrifice for His people, Israel. There were ordinances and commands to sacrifice lambs, bulls, goats, rams, turtledoves, etc. Look at Hebrews 9:11-28 in your Bible. This passage tells us of the Christ, who became that perfect sacrifice. Now look at #362 in your hymnal. The hymn is called Nothing but the Blood of Jesus. Let’s look at the lyrics in this song. Did you know that old fashioned Christianity is out of style today? Not many people want to worship a God who demands a blood sacrifice. It is an offense to them…they call it a “slaughterhouse religion.” In Hebrews 9:22 it says this, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” All through the Old Testament it was the blood of unblemished animals that would be sacrificed to cover the sins of the children of Israel. 1 Peter 1:18-19, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” A sacrifice had to be made…a blood sacrifice and Christ was the only one who could make that sacrifice. A perfect Lamb without blemish or defect…One who lived on this earth without any sin in His life. 1 Peter 2:22 says, “He [Jesus] committed no sin and no deceit was found in his mouth.” Next, there was a Lengthy Wait. God allowed the sacrifice of animals all through the OT period as a picture of the Sacrifice to come. The people of the OT had to wait…they would never see the Messiah, but they had that expectation of One who would come and deliver them. Let’s look at Hebrews 10:1-4, 11-14. Last of all there was a Lasting Payment. When Christ came, the old system (covenant) was fulfilled. Let’s look at Hebrews 9:24-28. Max Lucado writes these words in No Wonder They Call Him the Savior (p. 90), “Two trees. One is weathered and leafless. It is dead but still sturdy…only bare branches fork from the trunk. On the strongest of these branches is tied a hangman’s noose. It was here that Judas dealt with his failure. If only Judas had looked at the adjacent tree. It is also dead; its wood is also smooth. But there is no noose tied to its crossbeam. No more death on this tree. Once was enough. One death for all.” 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Look back at John 3:16 again, “For God so LOVED…that He GAVE…” This is the proof…it is only through the precious shed blood of Jesus that we can have redemption of sin. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
March 1, 2020 LOVE WRITTEN IN BLOOD SERIES (1): CHRIST’S BLOOD PICTURES GOD’S LOVE John 3:16 In his book “Written in Blood”, Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. The doctor explained that she had the same disease her brother had recovered from two years earlier. Her only chance for recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor. "Would you give your blood to Mary?" the doctor asked. Johnny hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled and said, "Sure, for my sister." Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room--Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned. As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny's smile faded. He watched the blood flow through the tube. With the ordeal almost over, his voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence. "Doctor, when do I die?' Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled when he'd agreed to donate his blood. He thought giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his life. In that brief moment, he'd made his great decision. Johnny, fortunately, didn't have to die to save his sister. Each of us, however, has a condition more serious than Mary's, and it required Jesus to give not just His blood but His life. In John 3:16, we have a word that stands out and the word is “gave” and in this word is a powerful truth. This word in the Greek means to furnish or to give forth from one’s self. It is in the aorist tense which means it has no starting or ending point. The love of God the Father was a giving and furnishing love. It was not wrapped in a cute little box with special wrapping paper and a bow. His gift to us was through His Son, Jesus, and it was anything but pretty. It was a shocking and bloody sacrificial gift. Over the next three weeks I want to share with you this gift of love that was written in blood! CHRIST’S BLOOD PICTURES GOD’S LOVE When Christ was in the Upper Room with the disciples and as He shared communion with them, he used the words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). Earlier He shared with the crowd these words, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (John 6:54-56). In all of Christ’s ministry He pictured His love and sacrifice in His blood. Christ’s death shows us Love’s DUTY. Christ did not shrink from His appointment with the cross, rather He invited it. John 12:27, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” A writer once said, “When duty calls, that is when character counts.” General Douglas McArthur once told the cadets at West Point about the soldiers who had given their lives on the battlefield, “I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always for them: duty, honor, country. Always their blood, sweat, and tears, as they saw the way and the light.” Christ’s death shows us Love’s DETERMINATION. Hebrews 12:2b, “…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The word “endured” means “to abide patiently.” The phrase “set before him” means “to be placed in the line of sight.” Jesus saw the joy that would be given to mankind and it helped Him to press on with determination. Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ’s death shows us Love’s DEPTHS, How far will a person go for love? In John 15:13 Jesus says, “’Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’” This passage reminds us of how far we should go, and Christ gave us the greatest example by His death on the cross! Paul lets us know how much love Christ had for us in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Paul is showing us the depth of Christ’s love for you in v. 2, “…Christ loved you and gave himself…” The giving of Himself is the demonstration and depth of His love. The cost of His love was Himself – His life. It was not just money or time or energy or inconvenience or even suffering…it was the full extent of sacrifice. He gave Himself!! I want you to notice that his love and this self-giving was for you! “Christ loved you and gave himself” Paul is talking about believers and He gave Himself for you. Do you see that God was pleased with the depth of this act of self-sacrificing love? “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (vs. 2) When God bowed down over the love that His Son poured out for us on the cross, it was a fragrant aroma to Him. God loves the Son’s love of us! The depths of Christ’s love for us was immeasurable and He was willing to pay that price! Remember that little boy, who was willing to give his blood for his sister even though he thought he was going to die? Christ knew He was going to have give His blood for you and I and then die for us as well. I want you to know, there is One who has written a message to you in His own blood and if you will accept Him as your own you will never be the same!