April 9, 2017

Shared Victory

Have you ever felt like this guy?  Now, before you answer, guys, I’m going to give you some advice: The answer is, “Yes.”  Now back to the question: Have you ever felt that way?  Now, why did that guy do that?  Well, the obvious and sweet answer is that he was just that much in love with his wife.  Awww…  The more direct answer is that he had experienced something—which, in this case, was love—that he couldn’t keep to himself.  The thing was too good not to share.

Even if you haven’t had that particular experience, you’ve probably experienced another kind of moment that was simply too good to keep to yourself.  Perhaps it was when you got engaged—or maybe when your kid or grandkid got engaged.  It could have been on the moment of the birth of your child.  We’ve had a few of those experiences in the broader Central family the last few weeks.  And because that kind of news really is too good not to share, here you go.  (Show pictures of Emma, Lachlan, Cael Wilson, Baby Smith, Baby Clay, and Baby Adams if possible)

There are other too-good-not-to-share experiences as well.  Maybe you got a promotion.  Maybe your kid did something really well.  Perhaps you saw a concert that just blew your mind away.  It could be that your team won the NCAA tournament this past week…lucky dog.  Whatever it was, when you experienced this too-good-not-to-share event, what did you do?  And if you’re thinking, “That’s kind of a stupid question,” that’s the point.  You shared it.  Because it was too good not to share.  If you didn’t share it, then it was not in fact too good not to share.  Otherwise you would have shared it.  See how that works?

This Palm Sunday morning as we wrap up our series, Victory, I want to talk with you about something else that’s too good not to share.  For the last six weeks, we have been taking a look at the victory Jesus won for us on the cross and what it can do in and for our lives.  We started off six weeks ago by making sure we had this victory firmly in view.  Unless we learn to keep our eyes fixed on the right things we will constantly get blown off course by other things that distract our focus away from what really matters.  When we keep Jesus, the glorious Lord of all, fully in our sights, though, there are many other things about the world that can’t bother us any longer.  They can’t because we have learned to see them in the proper perspective as at best temporary distractions from the path of life.

From there we went on to look at some of the fruits of our living with this victory firmly in our sights.  The first thing this can accomplish in us is to fill us with hope.  When we come to Jesus in faith, we find hope.  When we come to Jesus trusting that He is who He claimed to be, that He can do what He said He will do, and that we need to live our lives accordingly, we will be buoyed with a strong confidence in the amazing future He promised for all the folks who do the same.  That’s what hope is.  It is living now with confidence in good things coming later.  Our faith in Jesus unleashes this hope in us.  But that’s not all it does.

It also gives us the power to experience Jesus’ victory over sin in our own lives.  When we are in Christ, sin is not our master.  Jesus is.  Because of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are not beholden to obey the dictates and desires of sin in us any longer.  We have the freedom to pursue righteousness and justice, to live at peace with those around us, to not be weighed down by the guilt of decisions which are not honoring of God.  More than even that, though, as we talked about last week after taking a break to enjoy the kids’ musical, because of the victory of Jesus, we don’t even have to fear any of these things any longer.  There is nothing in this world that can separate us from the love of God as poured out through Christ.  Nothing.  Not a single thing.

That’s all pretty powerful stuff.  I daresay we could describe it as incredible stuff.  The power and promise that the victory of Christ unleashes into our lives—if we will have it—goes far beyond what we could have even dreamed if left to our own devices.  God’s good like that.  This morning, though, as we wrap things up, I want to ask a different question with you.  We’ve pretty well covered what God’s victory in Christ has done for us.  In light of all that, then, what should we do?  What’s the best way to respond to all that God has done for us in Christ?  Well, the very best way is to receive it.  But after that, things get a bit murkier.  Some folks argue for this and others for that.  I’d like to propose to you this morning a secondary response that trumps all the rest.  We can find Jesus calling us to this at the very end of the Gospel of Luke.  Turn to Luke 24 with me and let’s take a look at this together.

Starting in Luke 24:36 we see this: “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’”  This is one of those places that I think reminds us that God has a sense of humor.  The Gospel authors each tell of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances with the disciples.  In most of them, the disciples are gathered together and Jesus suddenly appears among them.  He’s like the butler from Adam Sandler’s Mr. Deeds—“veddy, veddy sneaky.”  In particular, this was the first time that any of the disciples had seen Jesus alive.  The women who encountered Him first had told them about it, but as Luke records back in 24:11: “…these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”  Even Peter and John who ran to the tomb to see for themselves that it was empty did not believe at first.  They simply pondered about what it could mean.

Now here they are gathered together listening to Cleopas and another disciple share how Jesus had walked with them on the road to Emmaus and they hadn’t realized it was Him until He broke the bread for dinner and then He was gone.  In the middle of this conversation Jesus is suddenly in the room.  It’s no wonder that Luke says this in v. 37: “But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.”  And before you chastise them for not recognizing Jesus and celebrating put yourself in their shoes.  Somebody you loved dearly has been killed and suddenly you see them standing next to you.  What’s your first thought?  Is it, “Hurray!  He’s alive!”?  No!  It’s, “Yikes!  A ghost!”  And of all the ways Jesus could have entered the room He chose that one?  It’s almost like He was a magician who just finished the greatest trick ever and is having His “ta-da!” moment.  Like I said: Funny.

It gets funnier, though.  Look at v. 38: “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?’”  “Umm…because You were dead and as far as we know, dead people stay dead.  Sure, You said all those weird things about rising on the third day, but we thought You meant that as like a metaphor.”  There’s similarly funny story involving Peter in Acts 12.  Peter had been arrested by Herod and everybody figured he was a goner.  Then an angel comes, miraculously breaks him out of prison, and Peter goes to Mark, the Gospel-writer’s mom’s house to meet up with the rest of the group.  The servant girl who opens the door for him is so shocked to see him alive that she promptly slams the door in his face and runs back to tell everybody that Peter was at the door.  They all respond by saying she must have seen a spirit.  Peter knocks again until they finally let him in and celebrate.  The point is that they were shocked and that their shock was normal.  Jesus knew this and was probably having some fun with them.

But there was still the matter of actually proving that it really was Him and not just a ghost.  Verse 39 now: “‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.  Touch me, and see.  For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’  And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.  And while they still disbelieved for joy [this isn’t doubt anymore, but rather that too-good-to-be-true feeling we talked about last week] and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’  They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.”  And while I still think it’s really funny that while they are all excited that Jesus is alive again He’s asking for food, this was all about proving to them that it really was Him.  A ghost doesn’t eat.  Unless it’s Slimer from Ghostbusters, but I don’t think that’s the same thing.  You can’t touch a ghost because its incorporeal—it doesn’t have a body.  Jesus wasn’t a ghost.  He was alive.  And He was about to tell the disciples what they needed to do about it.

But first, He made sure the foundation was poured well.  Check this out with me in v. 44 now.  “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’”

Why do all of this?  Again: Because Jesus wanted to make sure their foundation for understanding everything that had happened and that He was about to tell them was solid.  He wanted them to be absolutely convinced that not only had He achieved this incredible victory over sin and death, but that this was the very victory God had been promising His people since the Garden.  Indeed, that’s exactly what Jesus was getting at when He said that everything written about Him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms had to be fulfilled.

Consider just a cursory summary of the evidence here.  Way back in Genesis 3:15, when God was still just taking in the mess of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, He said this to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  Other translations put it, “he shall crush your head.”  The point was hope: You may have had a strike here, but the woman’s seed—notably, not the seed of the man and the woman—will destroy you.  He promised Abraham that his offspring (which, Paul explained, was singular and thus referring to Jesus) would bless the world in Genesis 22:18: “…and in your offspring all the nations of the earth [will] be blessed…”  Isaiah 52-53 contain the Song of the Suffering Servant which offers rather explicit details about Jesus’ life and the fact that He would give it up to pay the price for our sins.  Isaiah 53:4: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  Psalm 22 contains explicit details about the crucifixion—several hundreds of years before it was even invented as a form of punishment.  But, if you read the whole thing, it always points forward to the victory God won.  It goes from, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” to, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you…for he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him,” to finally, “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”

What’s the point here?  The point is that this victory Jesus won and about which He was now calling the disciples to do something wasn’t something thrown hastily together at the last minute.  This wasn’t something God knew He was going to do, but hadn’t really thought about the details of it until it finally all fell into place.  This wasn’t even something God had mostly planned out, but was waiting to see how history was going to shape itself before setting things in motion.  God had this whole thing planned out down to the smallest detail from day one.  Never was there a moment in the whole history of the world that God wasn’t gently allowing the choices we freely made to turn out such that His Son came along to save us from our sins at exactly the right time.  What’s more, He told us about it all along.  Now, no, people didn’t fully understand what He was saying, but that doesn’t mean He wasn’t still speaking.  This victory, far from being some surprising, come-from-behind thing, was the glorious result of centuries of careful planning and guiding all with you and me in mind.  Understanding the full context of Jesus’ victory only serves to elevate its splendor.

And when you are faced with something as splendid as this is, what do you do about it?  You share it.  You tell somebody else about it.  It is obviously too good to keep to yourself.  And so you let people know about it.  You become a witness to how great it is.  Look now at Luke 24:48: “You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Now, the second part there is a reference to the coming of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts 2.  The point for this morning is in the first part.  Jesus called the disciples to be witnesses of “these things.”  And what were “these things”?  Well, what had He just finished reviewing with them?  They were to be witnesses of the fact that Jesus was alive and that all of the Scriptures had been pointing to this incredible victory all along.

In the beginning of Acts, before telling about the coming of the Holy Spirit, Luke records a bit more of the conversation that took place here.  Jesus said in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  There it is again: You will be My witnesses.  The thing Jesus most wanted the disciples doing with the news of the resurrection and the victory it purchased for us was for them to share it.  In fact, not only is this His desire, but it’s really the only thing that makes any sense to do.  If you know this victory and really understand what it means, there’s no way you can’t be sharing it with everyone you know.  Our victory in Jesus is too big not to share.

Think about it.  We talked about just how good a thing this is last week.  In the victory Jesus offers us we find the true satisfaction of every desire we’ve ever had.  Now, you may dispute that on the grounds that people have desires for things that are not good and how could those desires be satisfied by the victory of Christ.  I agree with you on principle, but, I would argue that the heart of what we desire when want things that are not honoring of God is good, it is the means and timing of our seeing those desires fulfilled that get us into trouble.  The point, though, is just as I said: In the victory of Christ—in the Gospel—all of our desires can be fulfilled.  It’s more than even that, though.  We can find freedom from sin.  Remember that?  In Jesus’ victory sin’s power over us is broken completely.  That means we are offering people a way out of the constantly unfolding mess in which they otherwise live.  There still more.  In the victory of Christ we can find the wherewithal to see broken relationships restored.  If you have a relationship with someone that is broken, Jesus has the power to see that restored to full health once again.  Who wouldn’t want that?  If there is someone in your life who is hard to love and you for them, sharing the victory of Jesus with them is the absolute best thing you could do for the relationship.  Sometimes I think we don’t share the news about Jesus’ victory and what it has accomplished in our lives because we don’t really realize how good it is.  In the victory of Jesus enemies become friends, wounds are healed, desires are met, sin is conquered, relationships are restored, and there’s one more thing: We move from death to life.

Come on, assuming for the moment that this life is not all there is (that’s a pretty fundamental assumption of the Christian worldview), everybody’s going to spend eternity somewhere, right?  Our appropriation of the victory of Jesus is what determines whether we will spend eternity with our Heavenly Father in His kingdom or spend it separated from Him and by that separated from life.  Even if we allow for the moment that there are people you don’t think should be anywhere near heaven (ignoring for now the fact that someone might have thought that about you before you became a follower of Jesus), you certainly don’t want anybody you know and love to miss out on such a good future, right?  So then, if you have discovered the remarkable power of Jesus’ victory in your own life, why on earth would you not share this with everybody you know and love?  (We can worry about everybody else later.)  Our victory in Jesus is too big not to share.

We need to share it in every way we can.  We need to share it at every opportunity we have.  We need to look for ways to create opportunities to share it.  We can share it specifically by directly telling someone else about the Gospel.  And that’s a lot less of a task than we sometimes make it out to be.  The Gospel at its most basic level has three parts: Jesus died, Jesus rose, and because of that Jesus is Lord.  There are times when we need to share that with people.  We can also share the news of Jesus’ victory casually by gently working it into a conversation we’re having with a friend.  They say, “I’m having a really hard time with this.”  We say, “You know, I’ve been there before.  Do you know what helps me in those times?  My relationship with Jesus.  Because of what He did on the cross and in the resurrection He can help us get through the hard times we are facing.  I’d love to talk with you more about it if you’d like.”  We can share it naturally when the topic arises over the course of a conversation.  Perhaps someone has asked how we cope with hard times in our lives or about our faith or about the church we attend.  We respond by pointing them directly at the victory of Jesus.  We can even do it just through our behavior.  If you have made Jesus’ victory a fixture in your own life, your lifestyle should reflect that at every point.  It should drive you to be the kind of boss every employee wants to have, the kind of employee every boss wants to hire and keep, the kind of friend everyone wants to call their own, the kind of husband or wife that everybody grows up dreaming about marrying, the kind of dad or mom that makes the other kids jealous.  It should make you a beacon of peace and joy in a tumultuous society.  It should drive you to practice radical kindness and compassion for the people around you.  However it is that you share it, you’ve got to share it.  Our victory in Jesus is too big not to share.

Maybe you don’t need to shout it from the rooftops like the guy did in the jewelry commercial…but maybe you do.  When you’ve got something this good, you can’t keep it to yourself.  The disciples sure didn’t.  And it was their commitment to spreading the news of Jesus’ victory that led to the formation of the church.  The church started small, but it grew quickly as the new Jesus followers incorporated the victory of Jesus into their lifestyles.  It grew and it grew and it grew.  It transformed foes, turning them into friends.  One of these foes-turned-friends was named Saul.  Saul eventually became Paul.  Paul took the Gospel into western Asia and then Europe.  It stood through the rise and fall of a whole succession of empires as it continued to grow and spread.  It spread all the way to Church Road where 143 years ago a Bible study was started that became a church that—and this is my hope and prayer—has impacted your life in some way.  That’s quite a victory.  It’s a victory that has rippled out from its start across thousands of miles and years to impact your life and my life.  That seems to me like news worth sharing.  Our victory in Jesus is too big not to share.  And so, if you know this victory, help somebody else know about it too.  You’ll be glad you did, and so will they.