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The Wonder of Easter

Easter Festival

The Wonder of Easter

Text: Luke 24:1-12

I wonder.  I wonder if you have ever seen anything so amazing before.  It would have taken a forklift to pick my jaw back off the ground.  I was so filled with wonder and awe that I didn’t know what to say.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know where to go.  I just stood there, filled with wonder.

                  Have you had that feeling before?  Maybe you stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon looking at the bottom a mile and a half below and at the other edge 15 miles away.  Wow!  Maybe you stood at the foot of the Rocky Mountains looking at a peak 14,000 feet above you.  Wow!  Maybe you get that feeling every time you stand on the beach and watch the mighty waves come crashing down on your feet.  Wow!  Maybe it was watching the miracle of childbirth.  Wow!  I’m sure that at some point in your life you have been filled with jaw-dropping wonder and amazement.

                  Yet I’m not sure you could comprehend the wonder I saw.  In fact, when I was first told about it I didn’t even believe it.  It sounded too good to be true.  Some friends told me that they had seen it with their own eyes.  That still didn’t convince me it was possible.  After all, it was a group of ladies that told me what they had seen.  And you know how women can be.  Once they start talking, then they start getting excited, then they start exaggerating a little bit.  My ears heard what they were saying, but my mind didn’t understand it and my heart didn’t believe it.  I had to see it with my own eyes. Read the rest of this entry

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Victory!

Easter Sunrise

Victory!

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:51-57

One week ago the Panthers of Northern Iowa University were poised to storm the court in joy over their second upset win of the basketball tournament.  This was going to be an even bigger upset as they were about to beat the much higher ranked Aggies of Texas A&M.  But in a historic comeback for the ages, Texas A&M erased a ten point deficit in the last 30 seconds of the game, tied the game, and then went on to a stunning victory in the second overtime.  The Texas A&M team and fans went nuts over the unexpected victory.  The Northern Iowa team and fans had faces that were stunned, shocked, and streaming with tears.

This is why many refer to this college basketball tournament as March Madness.  You never know what might happen.  Even if you don’t like sports, you have to appreciate a team of college kids pouring their hearts out in competition.  Those who taste defeat are crushed and heartbroken.  Those who taste victory are overcome with joy.

Could you ever imagine though, a team that didn’t understand or appreciate their victory?  What if the Texas A&M fans were dead silent and didn’t cheer at all at the end of the game thinking, “What’s the big deal?  Why is our team so excited?”  What if Peyton Manning in his swan song Super Bowl victory had no pep in his step, no pump of his fist, not even a smile on his face?  What if an Olympian at the coming summer games in Rio won andevent or race but just walked away without standing atop the podium and receiving the gold medal?  What if the news media didn’t think the Olympics were a big deal and didn’t report the winners?  What if we Americans completely ignored what those athletes will accomplish on our behalf at the Olympics?  That would all be crazy, wouldn’t it?  That would never happen. Read the rest of this entry

Why Are You Here?

Easter Festival Service

Why Are You Here?

Text: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Why Are You Here today?  Well many of you are members of this church.  Some of you are families from our school.  Some of you might be family visiting one of our church members or school families for Easter.  Some of you might be visitors who got one of our shnazzy Easter postcards in the mail.  I’m aware of all this.

But really though, Why Are You Here today?  What brought you to this church on this day?  Is it because “It’s Easter and that’s just what you do—you go to church”?  Maybe you’re a Chr-easter Christian—you don’t go to church much but at least you show up on Christmas and Easter.  Did your wife drag you to church today?  Did you come for the free Easter Egg Hunt for your kids?

Maybe you’re here because your’e looking for some kind of relief from that crazy, messed up world out there.  Maybe you’re hoping that church will give you some kind of answers.  Maybe God will make things better, or at least make you feel better, if you come to church.  Maybe you’re here because you feel like you have to, like it’s an obligation, like God would be really mad if you don’t at least go to church on Easter.  Maybe you’re here because you’re a Christian and that’s just what you do—you go to church.  Maybe you don’t know why you’re here.

You must be here today for some reason and you must be looking to get something out of church.  Otherwise why would you waste your time, right?  Some people look for strength from church.  Some people hope God will take away their aches and pains or sicknesses.  Some people hope God will finally make life easier, maybe take away a few bills and make a few dollars magically appear.  Some people have hope that God can change this crazy, messed up world.

What if I asked you right now to write down in your service folder the top two things you want from God?  What do you think you would write?  My guess is that most answers would be like the hopes I just mentioned:  I want a new job (or better job) from God.  I want God to fix my family problems.  I want God to remove the threat of terrorism.  I want God to take away my stress.  I want God to let me catch my breath for once.

I would also guess that if you pray, your prayers often sound a lot like that too:  God, could you take away this sickness!  God, could you heal my sister!  God, would you please take this problem out of my life!  God, just a little more money.  Not a lot.  But a little more money would go a long way for me!

But do you notice what every one of those things has in common?  Yes, most of them are things I want.  Some are about other people, too.  But the one thing that is common is this—they all have to do with things in this earthly life.

So I’ll ask you again:  Why Are You Here today?  What is Easter really about?  What do you want God in your life for?  A quick fix?  A better life?  An easier, happier life?

On a day as important as Easter, it is good to do this self-reflection about why we are here and what God means to us.  So it is also important to hear these words from Paul today in the first verse of the second lesson:  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

What a striking verse!  If the reason that we are here today, if what we hope to get out of church, if what we hope to get from Jesus only has to do with things in this life and this world, then we are to be pitied more than all other people.  Think about that.  If what you want from Jesus and what Jesus offers to you are only things for this life, what a giant waste of time!  We are wasting our time at church and we are wasting our time with Jesus.  If Jesus came only to fill your wallets and give you a big house and take away all your problems and bring world peace, what good will any of that be when you die?  If Jesus only gives us hope for this life we should be pitied because we are wasting our time, our service hours, our offerings.  It would be a waste because nothing he would give us would last.  What good would any of that do for me in eternity?

Do you see how short-sighted and narrow-minded we sometimes become?  Do we have lots of pains and problems and troubles and sicknesses?  Absolutely!  Should we be going to God for help with those things.  Definitely.  No one else can help us like God can.  But should these worldly things be our greatest concern in life?  Absolutely not.  No way.  Not at all.

You see, that’s how sinful hearts work.  They draw attention and focus away from God.  Like a horse with blinders on, my sinful heart becomes completely focused on my life, on this life, on this world.  That’s why the old song Amazing Grace says, “I once was lost but no am found, was blind but now I see.”  We get lost in sin and blinded to what really matters most.

And this is what matters most:  What is my relationship with God like and where am I going to spend eternity when I die?

So good news.  You are here today.  And it’s Easter.  Whether you know it or not, whether you are here for this reason today or not, God has a most important message for you to hear.  Are your ready for it?  It’s the beginning of verse 20:  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”  Isn’t that awesome?  Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.

Do you get the flow of thought?  Go back to the first verse again:  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  If Christ only gives us hope for this life, that is pitiable and useless.  But he doesn’t because, Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”  Because Christ has been raised from the dead we have a different hope and a better hope than just for this life.  And that’s the best news we could ever hear.

Here’s how it works.  Let’s explore this paragraph.  Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  Jesus is called here the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep, or died.  In the Old Testament, the firstfruits were the first and best of an offering presented to the Lord.  The firstfruits were waved before the Lord first and they were a guarantee of blessings yet to come.  In the same way, Jesus was the first and best to rise from the dead and he is the guarantee that others will rise from the dead.

Keep reading:  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”  Sin and death entered this world through Adam and Eve when they sinned.  Every single person has been a sinner and has had life in this world end.  But through the one God-man Jesus Christ comes resurrection.  In Adam all die, but in Jesus all are made alive.  Verse 23 then:  But each in his own turn:  Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.”  So Jesus was the first to rise from the dead.  Afterwards, all those who belong to him, who believe in him, will also rise from the dead.

That’s what this day, Easter, means to you.  Jesus died on Good Friday to pay for all your sin.  He suffered the death and hell that you deserve through Adam and your sin.  But on Easter, Jesus rose to prove to us that sin has been paid for.  Jesus proves to us that death cannot hold us.  Jesus proves to us that a resurrection to a new and better life is waiting for us.  He was first and won the victory, then he gives the victory to us.

There’s one last result to look at—the end, as in the very end on the Last Day.  Finish the paragraph.  Verse 24:  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

This is not to say that Jesus’ reign will ever end.  We know that “He shall reign forever and ever.”  Rather, these verses tell us that on the Last Day Jesus will finally once and for all put an end to the reign of all spiritual dominions, authorities, and powers.  All his enemies will be done away with.  So come the Last Day, Jesus will once and for all do away with death and the devil.  He’s already defeated death and the devil.  He did that on Easter morning.  But on the Last Day he will get rid of them forever and ever.  Jesus will hand the keys back to the Father and say, “Mission completed.”

And guess what—you’re on his team!  Not only does that mean when you die you will rise to life in heaven, but you are also going to reign with Jesus forever and ever in glory!

So ask yourself this question again:  Why Are You Here today?  It’s not for Easter Eggs.  It’s not for egg dishes at Easter brunch (though they were great).  We’re all here to worship, to praise, and to thank Jesus Christ for delivering us from death and the devil and for giving us hope.  That’s right, we have hope now.  Not hope like, “I hope it doesn’t rain today,” or “I hope I win the lottery.”  You have real hope.  And not hope for things in this world either, like the hopes of being a millionaire or the hopes of world peace.  You have a real hope for a better life—an eternal life in heaven.

What a difference that makes in my life!  The apostle Paul was right, if Jesus gave me hope only for this life it would be pitiable, worthless, and a waste of time.  What good will fame and fortune, health and happiness do me when I die?  They’ll all be gone.  But Jesus doesn’t give me those things.  Jesus gives me something better.  Jesus gives something perfect and wonderful and beautiful to look forward—a life of peace and joy and happiness forever and ever with him.

That makes a difference in my life.  Do I really need to get so stressed out about schedules and appointments when I know peace and tranquility are coming in heaven?  Do I really need to worry so much about money or work so hard to get bigger TVs and faster cars when I know better riches are coming in heaven?  Do I really need to be afraid of every disease or disaster or even death when I know that death only means going to sleep and waking up in heaven?

That certainly also changes my priorities.  If I have a real and certain hope of life in heaven, that’s something I’m going to want to learn more about.  That’s something I’m going to want to thank God for.  That’s something I’m going to tell others about.   Real hope from Jesus changes every aspect of my life.

So Why Are You Here today?  Well I’m not sure what your real reason for coming was.  But I do know why you’ll come back.  I know why you’re life is going to be different.  I know why you have peace and joy that you can’t explain.  And I know why you have a real and certain hope for a real life forever with God.  Because Christ is risen, he is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

AMEN

No More Fears or Tears

Easter Sunrise

No More Fears or Tears

Text: John 20:1-18

Sometimes it’s just hard to know what to make of life, isn’t it?  All kinds of religious rights laws being thrown around and even more opinions about what exactly they might mean for Christians.  Unstable economies.  Natural disasters that are unstoppable and unpredictable.  Sicknesses.  Diseases.  Pandemic outbreaks.  Wars all over the place.  Nuclear weapons.  Chemical weapons.  Illegal weapons.  Protests and race riots.

It’s a scary world out there.  What exactly are we supposed to make of it?  Any day could bring a disaster.  Any day could bring an attack.  And really any day could be our last.  It’s hard not to live in fear and terror.

It’s a sad world out there too.  What exactly are we supposed to make of it?  Every day brings a new disappointment.  Every day brings more trouble.  Every day brings more heartache and heartbreak.  Sometimes the tears flow like a leaky faucet that can’t be fixed.  It’s hard not to live in sadness and sorrow.

Why does life have to be like that?  Why do bad things happen?   Read the rest of this entry

4th Sunday of Easter

Your Good Shepherd

1. Listen to Him
2. Follow Him
3. Trust Him

Text: John 10:22-30

Intro

It was December, wintertime in Jerusalem.  The Jews were celebrating the Feast of Dedication.  This was not a God-ordained festival, but man-made festival.  During the Feast of Dedication, also known as the Festival of Lights, also known as Hanukkah, the Jews commemorated Judas Maccabaeus.  In 165 B.C. Judas Maccabaeus led the Jews in driving the Syrians out of Jerusalem and purifying the temple.  The Jews, still to this day, light one candle or a seven-candle menorah to commemorate this event.

Once, Jesus was in Jerusalem during the celebration.  While the Jews were celebrating this joyous event, they couldn’t help but think about things that Jesus had been saying.  Seeing Jesus in the temple during Hanukkah, they could hardly keep quiet.  Verse 24:  The Jews gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’”

Normally Jesus would have given a very clear and simple answer.  In John 3 Jesus had a meaningful conversation with Nicodemus about who he was.  In John 4 the Samaritan woman at the well said she was looking for the Christ to come and Jesus said, I who speak to you am he.”  But his answer was different this time.  Verse 25:  Jesus answered, ‘I did tell you, but you do not believe.  The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.’”

Jesus had told them plainly and often that he was the promised Messiah.  Not only did he tell them often, but he also showed them often with powerful miracles.  They didn’t need any more testimony from Jesus.  They would have only hated Jesus more.  They didn’t know how good the Good Shepherd is because they weren’t his sheep.  They simply didn’t believe in him. Read the rest of this entry