MY DEFENSE IS JESUS’ RESURRECTION

4.30.17 Easter 3A

Easter Season A

Acts 24:10-21 (sermon also includes context from Acts 20:1 – 25:12)

10 When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: “I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense. 11 You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. 13 And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me. 14 However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, 15 and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. 16 So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.

17 “After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. 18 I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. 19 But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. 20 Or these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin—21 unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’ ”

 

‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’  That’s what this is all about.  I, Paul, was on trial simply because I believed  Jesus rose from the dead, and I love to tell people.

Here’s how it happened.  I had made the long journey from my mission work in Greece to Jerusalem to visit the believers there.  They were going through some tough times and I had brought gifts from a bunch of our other Greek churches to help them out.  A couple of these faithful Gentile believers accompanied us on the journey.  After we arrived in Jerusalem, we met with the brothers and sisters there.  It is always nice to meet and greet with fellow believers carrying out God’s work in a different part of the world.

The thing is, sometimes there is confusion about my ministry.  See, the Lord called me to do mission work for Gentiles.  Jesus is the Savior for all people, so we can’t avoid a certain group or certain areas just because it might be difficult or misunderstood.  His promises work the same for everyone.  His death and resurrection give forgiveness and eternal life to all who believe, no matter where you are from.

Well, you can imagine that not everyone thought my work was a good thing.  For the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, they were overjoyed that the gospel of Jesus was bringing Gentiles to faith.  For the Jewish religious leaders, the kind of people who put Jesus to death, they were not overjoyed.  They were pretty raging angry.

While I was in Jerusalem, I went to the Temple to worship and some of these raging angry Jewish religious leaders saw me there.  They were not at all happy about this.  They started shouting at me, that I was preaching an anti-Jewish message wherever I went, that I spoke against the law and the Temple.  They even accused me defiling the Temple with Greeks, because they saw some of my travel companions with me in the city and assumed that I was so anti-Jewish that I brought them with me to the Temple, too.  They got so enraged and aroused so many people that I thought they would kill me right then and there.

News got to the Roman commander, who took some soldiers and rushed in to arrest me for causing such a disturbance.  When he asked what I had done, the crowd shouted all sorts of lies about me.  The commander just wanted me out of there so everything would calm down and he could investigate what happened.  After I told him I was a Jew, he let me speak to the crowd in my defense.

I explained everything.  I told them how I grew up in Pharisee school, studying under Gamaliel.  I told them how my passion for God’s law led me to persecute the followers of Jesus to death.  It didn’t matter, men or women, I wanted them in prison or dead.  I told them about my trip to Damascus to find more of Jesus’ followers, but on the way, Jesus found me and changed my life.  The things his followers proclaimed were all true.  Jesus died and rose from the dead to save us for eternity.  I was an eyewitness to it.  Jesus said he had a different job for me now.  Instead of passionately persecuting his followers, he wanted me to zealously preach and evangelize for more.  So, he told me to go the Gentiles with his good news of forgiveness and life.

It was at that point that the Jews started shouting again.  They said, “Rid the earth of him!  He’s not fit to live!”  The commander got me into the barracks safely.  He wanted to punish me for the chaos, but as a Roman citizen, I had the right to a trial.  The Jews didn’t really have any legal charges against me. They were just angry that I preached the good news of Jesus.  And they were especially irritated that I did this ministry to Gentiles.

The next few days were a whirlwind.  I stood before the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin, to face their accusations.  The Roman commander didn’t hear any Roman laws that I broke, only that Jews really hated me.  He wanted to release me, but then my nephew found out about their plot to kill me when I was released.  So, the commander transferred me to Caesarea, because the Roman governor, Felix, lived there.

How about that for a week?  Well, five days later the Jews came to Caesarea with their lawyer, Tertullus.  He had this to say, “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him.”  Then, all the Jews joined in the accusations against me.  They really didn’t like me much, as you can tell.

Sometimes that happens, doesn’t it?  Sometimes people don’t like followers of Jesus.  They don’t like what you stand for, even if they don’t really know or ask.  They don’t like what you say.  They don’t like what you do.  They don’t like your attitude about life and death and heaven.  At times, they will accuse you of being high and mighty.  And other times, when you make a mistake, giving in to sin, then you are a hypocrite for doing what everyone else is doing.

It feels like you can’t win.  You try to do the right thing, living your faith in Jesus no matter what the situation, but people don’t care or they get irritated.  They don’t want to know about Jesus and they certainly don’t want you talking about it all the time.  And then, when you do something wrong, they question your commitment.

It would be a whole lot easier to simply give up.  Do you know why I didn’t give up?  Even though I faced threats and dangers wherever I went, do you know why I continued to speak about Jesus?  Even though I have been beaten, flogged, stoned and left for dead, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and so much more, do you know why I will never ever stop?

Because my Savior rose from the dead. No one else can say that.  Not one of those Jewish religious leaders can comprehend how much hope that gives me every single day.  I don’t care if they take my freedom, because Jesus Christ has made me free from the slavery of sin and has given me a righteousness that makes me a part of God’s family forever.  I don’t care if they take my eyes, because Jesus Christ has changed my darkness to eternal light.  I don’t care if they take my hands and feet, because Jesus Christ will give me a glorious, perfect body in heaven.  I don’t care if they cut out my tongue, because I will be singing the praise of Jesus Christ for eternity.  It doesn’t matter what they do, I will never give up the truth that my Savior rose from the dead.  It is my defense in every situation and my hope for eternity.

When your hope is in Jesus, then what can mere mortals do to you?  Nothing.  Sure, people can inflict physical pain if they get so fed up with your faith in Jesus, but physical pain does not last like the pain and punishment of hell.  Sure, people can make you an outsider because you believe in Jesus and his eternal life, but you are never an outsider in heaven.  Sure, people can even take your life, but faith in Jesus’ resurrection means you have an eternal life.

That’s the way I looked at it.  So, there I stood on trial before the Roman governor, Felix.  The Jews hoped that they could get rid of me.  They hoped that my preaching would be gone for good.  But their hope was in the wrong thing.  They put their hope in a lawyer, in the governor, in their own passion to get rid of me.  It didn’t work, because hope in people or desires here on earth will always fail.  But when your hope is in Jesus, it is alive and always will be.

Jesus came back from the dead for us.  We have confidence in every one of his promises because he is alive.  If he says he is with you always to the very end of the age, then a living Savior keeps that promise.  If he says he will protect and guard you in all your ways, a living Savior keeps that promise.  If he says your sins are forgiven, a living Savior keeps that promise.  If he says your home is in heaven, a living Savior keeps that promise.

You know, Felix kept me in jail for two more years.  He was relieved of his duties and Festus took over as the governor.  And I had to go through the hearings all over again.  Eventually, I appealed to Caesar so that I could go to Rome, and as a Roman citizen, my appeal was granted.  The Lord did exactly what he had promised to do. Every one of those days in prison my Savior was still the conqueror of sin, death, and the devil.  Every one of those days he was keeping his promises to protect me, forgive me, and love me.  Every one of those days my hope was alive in him.  He kept his promises.  I went to Rome and testified to the truth to anyone who would listen.

That is the Savior I have and will always have.  No matter what the circumstances or the situation you experience, if people are trying to tear you apart and rid the earth of your life or if they are just making you feel like an outsider, don’t give up.  Our Savior is alive.  No one can take that hope away.

Amen.

 

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THE COMEBACK FOR THE AGES

4.16.17 Easter Sunday

Easter 2017 2

Matthew 28:1-10

1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

 

They were down, big.  It really wasn’t even a game.  I literally left the party after halftime because it just wasn’t entertaining anymore (plus it was getting late for my kids, but it was mostly because of how boring the game was).  The score was 28-3 midway through the third quarter.  There had never been a comeback from that deficit in this big of a game. You might remember that day, this past February 5. It was Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons vs. the New England Patriots.  Now, I’m not at all a Patriots or Falcons fan, so I wasn’t broken up or pumped about it.  I was just kind of hoping for a good game.  But what about the Patriots fans that night?  The game was more than half over and the Patriots looked like they had forgotten what football was and how to play it.

Now, we’ve all been there before like the Patriots and their fans.  We’ve really hoped for one result and got something devastatingly different.  I know some people who were experiencing that kind of pain.  Men who had been so excited about the prospects of what could happen, like Patriots fans in the weeks leading up to yet another Super Bowl, but it all vanished.  They had that stunned look that you see so often from fans of a losing team in a championship game.  (Somewhat how I felt when I shaved my beard yesterday.)  It is just blank, void of energy, void of hope; it looks like there is no tomorrow, no next time.

The disciples were in those dark doldrums, but this wasn’t about a game.  There was no “can we start this over again.”  In fact, it was even worse than Patriots’ fans felt, because even when your team loses there will be another season.  The disciples were dealing with something much worse, something that couldn’t be undone.  Jesus was dead.  After all that time following him, listening to him, believing in himas God’s Son, it was all over.  They didn’t know what to do.  They were afraid.  They were together but felt so alone.  They were completely defeated.  They didn’t even go with the women to the tomb for closure.  It was too raw.  It hurt too much.

Do you know what that’s like?  I’m not just talking about seeing your favorite team getting the beat down.  I’m talking about when life is giving you the beat down.  Your spouse doesn’t seem so close lately.  Your house needs some work, but you’re too busy with work and money is tight.  Then, when you really didn’t need anything else added to your plate, you get rear-ended and the dentist calls saying it’s time for the family’s checkups (and who likes the dentist?). All those kinds of things that pile up and put you into a bad mood can be hard to handle.  They can seem overwhelming.   But somehow you manage.  After all, it’s not a life and death matter.

But then, that happens, too, like Jesus’ followers found out.  Maybe you know someone who has to deal with stage 4 cancer.  Maybe you have a good friend or coworker who was in a bad accident.  Maybe this past year or two you had to say goodbye to mom or dad, grandpa or grandma. That’s a lot worse than your favorite team getting the beat down or life giving you a few twists and turns.  That is life and death.  What do you do then?

And you know that you have to deal with it.  We have to come to grips with the fact that death is not optional.  Because in this world, nothing lasts forever, you and me included. So, what do we do about it?  Are we each supposed to find our favorite coping mechanism?  Some wrap themselves up in fun and family.  Some choose exercise and sports.  Some take to volunteering a lot.  Some try to ignore it all and live for the moment.  Some, sadly, turn to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain but it only causes more.  Is that what we are supposed to do?  But where does any of that get you?  Nothing we try can get rid of the fact that death will come.

The women on the way to the tomb were right in the middle of that sad reality.  It was dark and dismal for them.  The disciples were in it as well; too scared to go with them, too overcome with guilt that the last time Jesus saw most of them was as they were running away from him in fear.  Defeat has a way of sapping the life out of you, doesn’t it?

I’m sure that’s what Patriots fans were feeling.  And I know that players always say things like, “You just have to keep playing and see what happens,” but I’m sure there were plenty of guys on that sideline who weren’t thrilled with their play.  But then a little light started to peak through the clouds of defeat about halfway through the third quarter, it looked like the Patriots came out of the fog and remembered how to play for a championship.  They scored a touchdown, forced a punt, got a field goal, forced a fumble, got another touchdown.  It got to be a pretty serious game again with 3 minutes left.  The Falcons thought they had the defeated wrapped up, but the Patriots were showing a little life.

When the women arrived at the tomb, there was a little flicker of light.  They went out looking for Jesus’ dead body with a whole lot of disappointment, but when they got there, the guards didn’t meet them.  The large stone wasn’t standing in their way, and an angel was sitting there.  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.”  The women were defeated as they came looking for Jesus’ dead body.  But the angel lifted their heads and hearts and pointed them to a place where defeat and death should have held Jesus, but it was looking like there was life now.  If Jesus was not there in that place of death, that meant there was still hope.  If Jesus had come back from the dead, that meant death doesn’t have to be the winner.  If Jesus was alive, it meant that he was telling the truth all along, he was God’s Son, the Savior from sin and death.

You know how the Super Bowl ended, right?  Spoiler alert: The Patroits won in overtime.  It was the greatest comeback in the Super Bowl, ever.  That was just one game for one trophy.

The angel said to the women, “He is not here; he has risen.”  Jesus didn’t just win a game or a trophy.  Jesus accomplished the comeback for the ages, for all ages, of all time.  He came back from the grave to win the greatest victory there is.  He conquered death.  CIR HIRI

He had gone to the cross to do battle against our sin.  It was brutal and agonizing. And it looked like he was gone for good.  But with his dying cry of “It is finished” he made a promise that came true when he rose from the dead.  Sin was paid for in full.  For all the times we try to fix our lives and fail, for all the times we turn our back on God to go our own way, only to realize our own way doesn’t remove the curse of sin and death, and for all the times we give up, Jesus had the greatest comeback.  The finality of death is gone.   Death now holds now power over us.  Jesus pulled off the upset.  CIR HIRI

Now, if there’s a winner, there has to be a loser, right?  That’s how it works, as much as youth sports might be teaching kids to try their best and have fun, every game has a winner and a loser.  The Patriots had a massive comeback victory.  That meant the Falcons had a catastrophic collapse.

On Easter, there were huge losers.   The disciples were totally defeated.  They had turned their backs on Jesus.  They ran away and left him to be beaten and killed.  They didn’t deserve anything.  They were losers.

Maybe there are times when you feel like a loser.  You have turned your back on God.  You have failed your family.  You’ve broken a promise.  You’ve made a mistake.  Ok, if you’re anything like me, then it’s a ton of mistakes.  Something really important happens on Easter.

Jesus suddenly appears to the women.  They ran right into the proof that Jesus was alive.  They fell down in worship.  (That’s pretty much the same thing we are doing today, and every Sunday, we worship the one who came back from the dead for us.)  They didn’t have doubts or disappointments anymore. CIR HIRI

Here’s what Jesus said to the women: “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers…”  Jesus calls the disciples “my brothers.”  That might not seem like a big deal, but this is the first time in Jesus’ life that he calls the disciples brothers.  They didn’t even deserve to be called disciples.  They were losers, but the risen Lord sends them a message: “go and tell my brothers.”  The comeback King, Jesus, said to sinners like that, “go and tell my brothers.”

They were not the losers on Easter, and neither are you.  Jesus came back to life because he wants you to have his victory.  That’s the kind of God we have.  We have a God who fights for us and wins for us.  We are free from our sins through Christ.  He promises that he doesn’t even remember your sins anymore because he paid for them all. Jesus is telling you when he calls the disciples “my brothers” that you aren’t losers.  You have his comeback victory for the ages.

But there has to be a loser.  Do you know who that is?  The loser is death.  The angel and, more importantly, Jesus say to you this day, “Do not be afraid.” Death is defeated by a Savior who came back to life.  There’s more losers, too. The devil, he thought he had a great victory just a couples days before.  God’s Son was supposed to save the world, but he couldn’t save himself.  But early Sunday morning there was a message waiting for him.  Jesus told the devil, “I’m back; you lose.”  The devil can try but he can never convince you that you are a loser.  Because when you believe that Jesus rose, you are on his side, the champion’s side.  The loser is also hell.  The loser is sin and evil and anything that tries to rob you of the joy Christ has won for you.  Easter is Jesus’ comeback for the ages.  He defeated all your enemies and all your fears so that you can live in constant victory.

My friends, without Jesus Christ and his comeback, we would live as losers.  We would be forced to think that this life is everything, this hard, kind of nice but often not so nice life is all there is.  You live, you die; end of story.  And if that were the case, then the devil wins, death wins, sin wins, hell wins.  All hopes, all dreams, all lives would be lost.  Before Easter, no one had made that impossible comeback to conquer death for all time.  Even those who were raised to life again by God’s power before this had to die again.  But not Jesus.  Jesus has the comeback victory.  And that changes everything in our lives.  We are not losers when we are on Jesus’ side.  He said, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will live even though he dies.”

Do you see how that makes you the winner? Not even death can rob us of God’s love through Christ.  We have peace. We have joy.  We have excitement, as if life is a constant victory parade on the way home to heaven, a home that was paid for with Jesus blood and assured when he came back from the dead.  Death means we can go home to a Father who will welcome us with open arms to an eternity with him.

I kind of feel bad for the Falcons and their fans.  That was a rough loss.  But there’s always next year.  I don’t feel bad for death.  I don’t feel bad that Jesus completely and totally destroyed it’s power forever.  I don’t feel bad that there is no next year for the devil.  Because I have a Savior who lives, and so do you.  That is the joy we have today and always because of Jesus’ comeback for the ages.

Christ is risen. HE IS RISEN INDEED.  Alleluia!!!!  Amen.