I Believe In Jesus, Prt 2

Sermon Text – 09.23.2018
[Matthew 16:13-16 and Matthew 17:1-8]
In 1981, a Minnesota radio station reported a story about a stolen car, a missing VW bug in California. Apparently, in the news story the police were staging an incredibly intense search for the vehicle and the driver, even to the point of placing announcements on local radio stations trying to contact the thief. Now you might wonder – why were the police so desperate? Why the intense search for something so simple as a stolen car? Well, on the front seat of that stolen car sat a box of crackers that, unknown to the thief, were laced with poison. The owner of the car had intended to use the crackers as rat bait and so he had poisoned them, and was bringing them home when the car was stolen. The police and the owner of the VW bug were more interested in apprehending the thief to save his life, rather than recover the car – which was secondary. So often in our lives, when we run from God, we feel like we are trying to escape his punishment, but what we are actually doing is eluding his rescue.
Today we are continuing the conversation about foundations and the Apostle’s Creed. Today is actually the second half of our conversation about Jesus Christ – who and what he is. Now, last week we talked about how Jesus had a dual nature – fully human AND fully divine. It’s not logical, but it’s what we have found to be true – so we call it a mystery. If you want to impress your religious scholar buddies you can use the words “hypostatic union” – but really it just means dual nature of Jesus. Last week we jumped into the first half of the paragraph about Jesus and we focused on how Jesus was fully human. But today, we get to tell the rest of the story – the part the people call the gospel, the good news. Not only was Jesus fully human, but Jesus was also fully divine.         
    So we get started with our scripture lessons for today, and both our scriptures are right next to each other in Matthew. And in chapter 16 Jesus is talking to his disciples. He turns to them and asks, “Who do they say I am?” And the disciples throw out a few answers, “John the Baptist, Elijah come again, etc.” Then in verse 15 he asks, [read 15-16]. The Apostle’s Creed says “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.” First things first, Jesus is God’s ONLY son. See at this time in history, there were lots of men claiming to be divine. Lots of kings and emperors and things like that who claimed, I am a son of God – so you have to worship me and obey me. So this line stuck out when they first wrote it. There are no others, Jesus is God’s ONLY son. Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our LORD. Let’s talk about that word Lord for a second. A dictionary will tell you that a Lord is someone who has power, authority, and influence – like a master or a ruler. And I think that’s something we as Americans have forgotten. We have a rebellious history, and we love to uphold the stubborn and strong-willed. We are not used to the idea of someone being our Lord, or our Master. We have spent so much time pushing the “Jesus as my best friend” mentality that we forget Jesus is also our master, our Lord. Part of being a Christian is to look at Jesus and say, “you have my allegiance. You and you alone are worthy of my praise, of my admiration.” We all worship something in life – with your time, your money, your life. Christians choose to give it all over to Jesus.          
Our second scripture for today is right there in the next chapter in chapter 17. Basically what happens is Jesus takes a couple disciples (Peter, James and John) and they go up a mountain. Now you might interpret that as these three getting a place of special honor, like these three guys are more important or something. But if you’ve ever worked in youth ministry – you know better. Turns to the disciples, “you guys sit tight – Peter, James, John, you get over here where I can keep an eye on you.” So then they go up a mountain, and as soon as they get up there – Jesus is transformed right before their eyes. It says [read v.2-3]. Now, Peter – if you didn’t know – has a reputation for being a little too gung-ho. He gets so excited and tells Jesus, “this is amazing. Let me build you a house, let me build you three houses – for you and Moses and Elijah.” But then, verse 5 [read it]. Now this is already a pretty weird story – but there’s another level to it I wanted to point out. I was prepping for this sermon, and I found out that the word Peter uses for house is the same Greek word for tabernacle. Tabernacle was like a temple where the Jewish men worshipped – where they came to talk to God and have access to God. And so Peter is looking at Jesus being all glorious and he’s thinking, “This is so awesome, I want to have access to this glorious amazing Jesus, I need a building, a place where I can get to God. But at that moment a voice from heaven comes an says, “You don’t need to build a silly temporary building – he’s right here in front of you – listen to him.” So the disciples freak out, and fall facedown on the ground. Verse 7 [read 7-8]. All this glorious amazing, blow your mind impossible divine stuff – but in the end, it’s all right there in front of you. It’s just Jesus. The fully divine, standing right in front of you.          
   See, I’ve studied this stuff a lot. I’ve got a Bachelors in Religion and Philosophy with a minor in Music of Worship, ad then I went to grad school and got a masters of Divinity, with 3.8 GPA. I have read more books, listened to more preachers and teachers and mentors talk about all these theological concepts. They use really fancy and completely unnecessarily complicated words like soteriology, Christology and eschatology and atonement – and what I’m trying to say is that all that fancy nothing comes down to one story that every single one of us already knows. It’s a simple story, told again and again in each of our individual lives, and then told again in our lives together as a people, and then again in each generation throughout history since the dawn of time. Truth is, there is only one story – repeated in the echo chamber of life. Creation. Fall. Redemption. Think about this – over and over, this is the story of our lives. We start out, something bad happens, and then redemption. And if you were to take a pen right now and draw that cycle on a piece of paper. Creation, Fall, Redemption. Over and over you end up drawing a heartbeat. This simple story is the heartbeat of life. Creation. Fall. Redemption.      
     Thousands of years ago, men and women lived their lives. Creation. And every single one of them would sin, they would do something that hurt themselves, hurt the people around them and the God who created them. They would fall. Long before Jesus, there was a method of restoration. They had a way of fixing mistakes, a temporary tix, a band-aid. They called it sacrifice. They would take an animal, a perfect animal with no flaws. They would say a prayer, putting all their sin, all their mistakes, all the garbage of their life, on that animal. And then they would kill the animal, destroying their sin. Now, I know, to us that seems super violent, and horrible and gruesome. But this was serious stuff! They didn’t take it lightly. They had screwed up the greatest thing to ever happen in life – a good connection to God. They needed a ritual that would show the depth of their sorrow, but also the absolute nature of their turning away from their sins. They weren’t like, sort of sorry. These people looked at their past, looked at the things they did wrong, at the way they screwed up and hurt those around them. And they said, I never want to make that mistake again. I hate my sin. I’m taking this bad habit, this problem in my life, and I’m going to kill it, destroy it forever. Problem was, it was a band-aid. A temporary solution to a bigger problem. Sin continued. Romans tells us the wages of sin is death, and they were trying to fix death with death.   
       Then comes Jesus. Fully Human, but also fully divine. He did what no other human being had ever done. He lived a perfect life. Blameless, sinless, perfect. He did a lot of things with his life – he healed people, performed miracles like multiplying food, turning water into wine, walking on water, even controlled the weather at one point. And he made a lot of people very angry. But the thing that ticked them off the most – was when he forgave people for their sins. Jesus had all the authority of God, and so he was out there forgiving people. But the High Priests didn’t like that. They really liked their band-aid, their system of temporary problem solving, the sacrifices. Jesus was cutting out the middle man. In our scripture lesson, in that moment when Jesus was up on that mountain and he was chatting with Moses and Elijah – those are characters from the Old Testament. And a lot of scholars agree that this indicates that the story of Jesus is a continuation of the Old Testament. The system of sacrifice was to kill a perfect animal to wash away your sin, and Jesus finishes that practice with his sacrifice, with his death. Remember his words, “This is my body, broken for you.” I’m probably going to get in trouble because I’m not sure if this is traditionally correct – but I’m just trying to explain what I know. [point at table] This is not an altar. This is just a table. [point at the cross] That is our altar. We don’t do sacrifices like they used to, because Jesus was our perfect sacrifice. He paid the price once and for all.   
        This is really hard to explain, but I’m going to give it a shot. You see, we worship a God who is good. In fact, he’s more than good. God is perfect. God is just. God is holy. And because He is eternally good and holy and just – he cannot abide by evil. God is the light and there is no darkness in the light – so God doesn’t allow evil to survive. In fact, it goes so far as to say that God pours out his wrath on evil. Because God is just, he hates injustice – he pours out his judgment and wrath on evil. There’s not going to be any racism in heaven. There’s not going to be any sexism in heaven. There’s not going to be any inequality or any injustice in heaven because those things are against God and God pours out his judgment and wrath on them. Now, I know – some of you are thinking, good grief Pastor JJ, “judgement and wrath” sounds a little Old Testament. And I hear you, but I read to the end of the story, in the book of Revelation, and I have a secret – it’s not like God mellows out by the end of the world. God still hates evil at the end of the world too. He pours out his judgment and wrath on injustice in our world. And yet… God is also compassionate. God is also loving and forgiving and merciful. He is fully just, but also incredibly merciful. And so what happens is that we get the full wrath of God poured out on the sins of the world AND the full mercy of God demonstrated in what happens on the cross. In the person of Jesus, Jesus bears the full weight of the wrath and judgment of God and at the same time offers us the fullness of God’s compassion and mercy. And it’s really hard to explain because it’s such a crazy moment in history – and so over history we’ve got all these metaphors and such to try and explain it all. But really all it is in humanity reconnecting with God. Jesus paid it all, the perfect sacrifice for each of us.      
     Take a second, think about your life. We say it all the time, we all make mistakes. We are all broken. So what are your mistakes? What do you struggle with in this life? And if you can’t think of anything, ask your husband he can help. But seriously, just think for a second about the things that we have done. We might all have different struggles, but the one thing that is the same is that we all struggle with something. For the things we have done, for the mistakes we have made – we deserve the consequences. But then Jesus came. Jesus took the sins of the entire world on his shoulders, and then he willingly, voluntarily sacrificed himself for us. We know that Jesus was fully divine, think about that – he could have walked off that cross at any point if he wanted. Pull down the full power of God on his enemies, shoot them with lightening or something – but he didn’t. His love for us kept him on that cross. He gave himself up, took our punishment, so we don’t have to. The Apostle’s creed continues, “on the 3rd day he rose.” The best part of the Jesus story is not that he was some great sacrifice for all of humanity – because that’s a temporary solution. But then Jesus rose. Jesus rose from the dead. He defeated sin and death, so it has no more power in our lives. I know maybe it sounds cliché, because some of us have heard these phrases our entire lives – but just think about this for a second. With Jesus we are given a new life. We take our old life, our sins, our struggles, our temptations, and we let all of that die. We put it up there on the cross and it dies. This is not a motivational self-help speech. This is a call to radical surrender. Stop trying to outsmart your sins. Give up your sins, give up your brokenness – the pieces of this shattered world that have a grip on you, give them up. The old self dies, and we bury it, we put dirt on that grave. But then he rose. Our sins die with Jesus, but we rise with Christ. Jesus forgives our sins, washes us clean – gives us a second chance, and a third chance, and a fourth. That’s what Jesus’ love can do. Now there’s one more piece to this story. Something that most Christians get mixed up on. But this is very important. Jesus doesn’t love you because you’re a good person. Honestly, you’re not that good a person. Romans 5 verse 8 tells us that while we were still sinners, God loved us. You gotta understand this part. Jesus looks at your life, and he sees you just as you are. Not as you want to be seen, not as you present yourself to the world – but as you really are. Isn’t that sort of terrifying? Jesus is fully divine – he knows your heart, your mind, your past, everything. He looks at you in the lowest place of you life, in the midst of all the pain you have caused, all the mistakes you have made. He sees the worst part of who you are – and he does not give up on you. Jesus wipes away our tears, lifts us out of the mud and says, “I see potential in you. I see something worth saving.” We don’t earn God’s love – ever. He gives it to us, freely – and we show him gratitude.       
      This is the story of what God has done for us – and for some of you this is all very familiar. We call it the passion story, salvation, justification, the atonement theory. But all that fancy nothing comes down to the same story – creation. Fall. Redemption. We are separated from God, and Jesus gives us a way to reconnect with God. We are fallen, broken and Jesus gives us a shot at redemption. Jesus offers us forgiveness. So the first part of our application is accept that forgiveness. The Apostle’s Creed starts with “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our LORD.” When we accept Jesus into our heart, we pray for him to take our sin and radically change our lives – so that we will never be the same again. We look at our bad habits, our sins, our mistakes of the past – and we say, “I’m done with that. I’m never going back. I hate my sin and I want it gone. I want it dead.” We start to say not my glory, but God’s glory is what matters. We put him as the Lord of our life, and follow him to the end. Part 1 – accept Jesus’ forgiveness.    
       But the second part of the application is just as important. Part 2, after you’ve accepted Jesus’ forgiveness – you need to LIVE Jesus’ forgiveness. Someone pulls you out of the pit, you don’t thank them by hopping right back into the mud. Someone pulls you out of the pit, you thank them by learning from them, stay out of the pit – maybe even learn to pull people out of the pit yourself. There is a path that God laid out for us – and again there’s lots of fancy worded for it – call it discipleship, sanctification, the holy life, the righteous path – but really, what it comes down to is people, suddenly forgiven, trying to follow their God. Once you accept Jesus’ forgiveness, you need to live into that forgiveness. Once you say, “alright Jesus, I’m going to follow you.” The next step is to actually follow Jesus. In the beginning we’re all baby Christians. We don’t know how to follow Jesus yet, we aren’t sure how to live in a way he’d be proud of. There should be no judgment in this church for people who are looking for answers. Like I’ve said, I’ve studied this stuff for my entire adult life – and I do not have all the answers. I’ve made some really dumb mistakes in my walk with God, mixing up teachings, quoting the wrong scriptures – but that’s what the church is supposed to be. A group of broken, forgiven people trying to understand and follow their Lord and savior. What if that’s what we did here? Show people the forgiveness of Jesus, and for those who accept it – work together with them to try and follow Jesus best we can.           So many people, who call themselves Christian, so many people have it backwards. They do all these things, follow all these rules and think they deserve heaven. They earned it, they made up for their mistakes. They do more good than bad, so it balances out. But the truth is we don’t do good things to earn salvation, to earn our forgiveness. You CAN’T earn it from God. Jesus offers it freely, to sinners – before they’re doing good, and when we accept it THEN we start living a life God would be proud of.      
       In 1981, a Minnesota radio station broadcasted a story about a stolen car. The owner and the police were desperate to catch the thief before he ate the poisoned crackers in the front seat. This wasn’t about punishment, it was about saving his life – giving him a second chance. Christians from every tradition believe that God loves you. He proves it with his actions – he came, lived, died, rose from the dead – forgave. If you accept that forgiveness, ask Jesus to be your Lord and then you live it – your life will never be the same. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you accept Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins. May you live with Jesus’ as your Lord and savior and May you spread that forgiveness and love to everyone around you. Amen.

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