On Your Mark, 23 April 2017

On Your Mark—An Intro to the Gospel of Mark
Mark’s Gospel: The Real Jesus
Mark 1:1

Series Big Idea: The shortest gospel is filled with good news about Jesus!

Big Idea: Mark wrote a stunning biography of Jesus, our Messiah and God.


He is still risen! He is still risen indeed!

Welcome back! My name is Kirk and last Sunday we had a fantastic celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. But listen to these profound words from N.T. Wright:
But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration.

…Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?

…we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways: in art, literature, children’s games, poetry, music, dance, festivals, bells, special concerts, anything that comes to mind. This is our greatest festival. Take Christmas away, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else. Take Easter away, and you don’t have a New Testament; you don’t have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins…

…if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again—well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative…. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do it only for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.”

As I said, last Sunday we had a fantastic celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. He is alive! But who is Jesus, really?

If you ask ten people who Jesus is, you may end up with ten different answers. But how can we know for sure? I submit to you two things:

- The Bible provides us with four biographies of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
- Jesus is alive and knowable—personally—through prayer and the Bible

One of my greatest frustrations as a pastor is reading about “biblical scholars” who are atheists. It seems like every Eastertime they get busy promoting another book, another theory, hoping to make a buck off some naïve shopper in line at the grocery store with tabloid headlines about another new discovery, a new theory, a secret revealed. With all due respect to intellectuals who study the Biblical texts, the atheists among them miss the point. Jesus is a living Person. He wants us to know Him. He wants to know us. The first thing I want to know about a Bible scholar is if they know the Author…of the Bible, of life. Our faith is completely dependent upon the cross and the empty tomb. If you know the Bible but don’t know Jesus, it’s as useless as analyzing the penmanship of a love letter, missing its message.

The Bible is, in fact, a love letter. It is not written to us, exactly, but for us. Today we’re going to look at the background of the Gospel—or good news—of Mark and the most important question in life.

Why Four Gospels?

Matthew: Hebrew, religious audience, “Son of David,” advertising and announcements
Mark: Roman, strong, rulers, power, emphasizes Jesus the suffering Servant, headlines
Luke: also wrote Acts, Gentile author, historian, “Son of Man,” special features
John: emphasizes deity of Christ, Savior, “Son of God,” editorials/columns

This biography of Jesus will inspire, inform, and hopefully transform you and me to become more like Jesus.

Before we dive into the Gospel of Mark, I want to give you some background.

It’s the first gospel written, one of the first NT books to be written

It was written by John Mark. He was not an apostle, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, but he was an important figure in the early Church

He appears in the book of Acts

When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. (Acts 12:12)

He was a cousin of Barnabus.

My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. (You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.) (Colossians 4:10)

He was the spiritual son of Simon Peter.

She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. (1 Peter 5:13)

This has long been considered Simon Peter’s gospel. John Mark traveled with Paul and later Barnabus.

Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. (Acts 15:37-40)

John Mark made good. Paul later called for him in his letter to Timothy.

Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11)

Mark learned about Jesus from Peter and Paul. Mark was also an eyewitness to the events in the life of Christ.

Mark emphasizes Christ as the suffering Servant, the One who came not to be served, but to serve and give His life a ransom for many. Mark likely wrote this book in Rome. A servant needs references, not a birth certificate (no genealogy as in Matthew).

Here’s J. Vernon McGee’s outline of the book:

John introduces the Servant
God the Father identifies the Servant
The temptation initiates the Servant
Works and words illustrate the Servant

It’s filled with more miracles than the other gospels.

Healing: Physical
Nature: Natural
Casting out of demons: spiritual
Raised from the dead: supernatural

Mark 1

The book begins with what might be the most important verse in the entire book. It answers what might be the most important question in all of life:

Who is Jesus?

John Mark’s gospel or “good news” begins…

The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1 (NIV)
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1, NASB)

The purpose of the book of Mark is not history. It’s not merely a biography of Jesus. In fact, Jesus’ birth and childhood are omitted. The book begins with Jesus around age 30. No manger. No puberty. No teenage years! Mark begins with the gospel or “good news.” His purpose is “good news.”

The original Greek word for gospel,
euaggelion, was often used in a military context. The army would send a message back to the city and proclaim, “A victory has been won. We are not going to die! We are going to live!”

That’s what Mark does. He tells us Jesus is alive and, therefore, a victory has been won for you and me. Life is available for us. Not just survival, but abundant life (John 10:10).

He also tells us two things about Jesus’ identity. First, Christ is not Jesus’ last name! The word means “an anointed, royal figure” in Greek. In Hebrew, it is translated, “the Messiah.” A victory has been won for us by Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed, royal figure proclaimed for generations. Some English translations of this verse replace “Christ” with “The Messiah.”

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1, NIV 2011)

Second, Jesus is the Son of God. He’s not just the Messiah, He’s God!

Jesus is Messiah and God. This statement is a dividing line of faith. You can accept or reject the claim. If you believe Jesus is God, the miracles and teachings and resurrection are not difficult to accept. If you don’t believe Jesus is God, the rest of the book of Mark—the rest of the New Testament—will not make much sense.

If you don’t believe Jesus is God, there’s no shame. You belong here. Keep seeking. Keep asking.

Some contemporary Jews believe Jesus is not the Messiah because He did not bring the Kingdom to Israel. He was a failed Messiah. There have been hundreds, maybe thousands of people who claimed to be the Messiah. You’ve probably never heard of any of them.

If Jesus is just another failed Messiah, how would you explain His influence two thousand years later? His Church is still growing, His Name is being worshipped in every part of the world.

What if Mark was correct? Let’s assume Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, God. Let’s assume He really died and rose again. Why do I believe that and others don’t?

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13)

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14)

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

Who do you say Jesus is?

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

Look at how Jesus replies.

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)

If you believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God, it was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by God the Father. It’s not because of your intellect or morality or a great argument. It’s because your Heavenly Father revealed it. The original Greek word for “revealed” here means “to take the cover off of something.”

Simon Peter is blessed by God.

Believers in Jesus Christ are blessed by God. The truth has been revealed.

The greatest longing in any heart may be to receive the blessing of their father and mother.

If you believe Jesus is the Christ, it’s because God the Father blessed you. Followers of Jesus are blessed sons and daughters of the King of kings.

Who is Jesus?

This is the question we will be answering each week in this series as we examine the gospel of Mark.

Listen to Jesus' answer to the question from the gospel of John:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Jesus is the way…to truth, to life, to the Father.
Jesus is the truth.
Jesus is life. He is alive. He conquered death. He offers you and me eternal life. He offers us abundant life.

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, (Mark 1:1, NIV 2011)

Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the LORD of all.

Credits: some ideas from Matt Carter (Austin Stone Community Church), Warren Wiersbe, NT Wright, J. Vernon McGee, and David Garland.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Because He Lives, 16 April 2017

    Because He Lives
    Series: A Love That Never Dies
    Matthew 28:1-10

    Series Big Idea:
    Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

    Big Idea: Because He lives, all fear is gone.

    Welcome to Resurrection Sunday! This is the greatest day of the year, the day we celebrate our living Savior, LORD, and King, Jesus Christ! Today we conclude our series, “A Love That Never Dies.” Even though Jesus died, his love for us never dies.

    Fear. We all experience it.

    We are afraid of failure.
    We are afraid of success.

    The most common command in the Bible is not love, but rather, “Fear not.”

    We are afraid of the betrayal of friends.
    We are afraid of the attack of zombies!

    What’s your greatest fear?

    We are afraid of death.
    We are afraid of life.

    Fear has been a part of the human condition from the beginning. I can’t imagine the fear on Good Friday. The gospel—or good news—of Matthew says,

    From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land (Matthew 27:45)

    For three hours in the middle of the day as Jesus is suffering on the cross, the whole land turned dark. That would freak me out! I know we have a lot of cloudy days in Toledo, but it doesn’t get dark at noon! A few verses later we read…

    Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:50-53, NLT)

    The moment Jesus dies, this huge curtain separating people from the most sacred place on the planet, the holy of holies, is torn from top to bottom. That’s weird! It was wonderful, by the way, because that meant Jesus’ death provided reconciliation between us and our Creator God.

    But that’s not all. The earth shook. Have you ever experienced an earthquake? Freaky!

    Rocks split apart. What? Have you ever seen that?

    And then maybe my favorite part…tombs opened. The dead were raised. It says bodies left the cemetery after the resurrection, went into the city, and appeared to many people. Grandma?!?!

    The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

    Do you get the picture? The crucifixion scene was awful. It was scary. Jesus dies. Nature freaks out. People are weeping. The smell of death is in the air. Roman soldiers are everywhere. Is it any wonder people were afraid?

    But that was Friday. People are afraid of death, but today is a day of life, right? Let’s look at our text for today, a verse verses ahead.

    After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1)

    These women go to the tomb. They probably had two sleepless nights. They were tired. They were overcome with grief and stress, watching an execution right before their eyes. Mary saw her son’s life drained in front of her. If she did sleep, I’m sure it was filled with nightmares.

    This wasn’t supposed to happen. He was such a good boy! He was darn-near perfect. Actually, he was perfect. Why would anyone want to kill him? A week ago a parade welcomed him in to the city of Jerusalem, and now he’s dead!

    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. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.  (Matthew 28:2-4)

    It’s Sunday. Another earthquake? A violent one. An angel rolls back the stone. Talk about freaking out, the guards shake and become like dead men.

    These are the powerful warriors the women expect to be guarding the tomb. Instead, the women are terrified by someone else.

    The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 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.” (Matthew 28:5-7)

    First, the angel terrifies the guards. Now he terrifies the women. Can you blame them for being afraid?

    So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. (Matthew 28:8)

    Fear. Hope. Joy. Fear. Hope. Joy. They were surely an emotional mess! Jesus is alive?

    Suddenly Jesus met them.
    “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:9-10)

    Why does Jesus say, “Do not be afraid?” Because they’re afraid! They’re overcome with emotion. Is this really happening? Have we finally fallen asleep and we’re dreaming? Dead people do not say, “Greetings!”

    Yet this is the account. There were hundreds of eyewitnesses. He ate with them. He talked with them. He showed them his pierced hands and feet. And for about 2000 years men, women and children have been experiencing a relationship with Jesus, a relationship possible only because Jesus is alive!

    He is risen! He is risen indeed!

    Followers of Jesus base everything on the resurrection. Everything!

    Paul, once an enemy of Jesus and his followers, remarked

    And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14)

    Friends, either the resurrection happened or it didn’t. If it didn’t—if Jesus is dead or never died—our faith is useless. Paul says “we are of all people most to be pitied.” We are hopeless. We have every reason to fear death, to fear life.

    But if Jesus is alive, we have hope. We have forgiveness. We can have the promise of eternity with God…and the assurance of salvation. We can experience peace, love, joy, and purpose.

    What are you afraid of? Death? Many people are afraid of death. You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. If you were to die tonight and stand before God and he asked you why you deserved to spend eternity in heaven, what would you say?

    I would say, “I don’t deserve to spend eternity in heaven. I deserve to go to hell because of my sins, my evil, my rebellion, my failures. But Jesus died for me. He confronted evil in all its forms and went into the darkness to take its full weight upon himself. And Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered sin and death.”

    As I said recently at the International Student Easter Dinner, the difference between our faith and that of religion is how they’re spelled.

    Religion is spelled
    D-O, what we do to try to make God like us.

    The message of Jesus is spelled
    D-O-N-E, it’s what he has done for us, dying and rising from the dead.

    What are you afraid of? Life? Many people are afraid of life. Tragedy, loneliness, sickness, terrorism. This world is messed up because of sin. But we need not fear because Jesus is alive. He experienced loneliness, temptation, pain, betrayal, and even death. He understands what you and I face every day. He sent the Holy Spirit to be present with us, to guide us, to comfort us, to encourage us, to empower us. He also gave us one another, a family to belong to, brothers and sisters to journey with.

    We are all afraid of being vulnerable, of trusting someone only to have them abandon us. It has happened to me and probably to you.

    Let me just state I’m sorry…sorry for the pain and disappointment you’ve experienced in life. I’m especially sorry for the behavior of so-called Christians who acted nothing like Jesus. I’m ashamed to say my life does not always look like Jesus—but that’s my desire. I want nothing to do with organized religion…and everything to do with Jesus.

    Because of Jesus—and because he lives—I have experienced peace, joy, satisfaction, hope, love, and purpose…and confidence about this life and the next.

    We’re going to close with a song that talks about the result of the resurrection. Because he lives, all fear is gone. The Bible says perfect love casts out fear. Jesus loves you. He died for you. He rose for you. He’s alive today and wants to calm your fears. He wants to be your Savior. He wants to be your LORD and King.

    Because He lives
    I can face tomorrow
    Because He lives
    Every fear is gone
    I know He holds my life, my future in His hands

    Because He Lives (Amen)

    Fear not!

    Credits: Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017

    Palm Sunday
    Series: A Love That Never Dies
    Matthew 21:1-11

    Series Big Idea:
    Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

    Big Idea: We can shout, "Crucify," "Save us now," or praises.

    Matthew 21:8-11

    Today is Palm Sunday, the remembrance of an interesting parade in Jerusalem, a procession planned centuries earlier. The prophet Zechariah wrote

    Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
    See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
    lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

    (Zechariah 9:9)

    What was the meaning of this assembly? What’s the big deal with Palm Sunday?

    Have you ever been to a parade? There’s something exciting about marching bands, floats, waving celebrities…and candy. Don’t forget candy. I think that was my favorite part, as a kid, racing to pick up candy off the ground!

    This parade was not announced with TV ads and Facebook invitations. It wasn’t an annual festival like the 4
    th of July or Memorial Day. The setting was the city of Jerusalem. Jesus was attracting crowds, teaching the scriptures like no other rabbi, infuriating the religious people, and healing the sick. His name was a lightning rod of controversy, perhaps not unlike Trump, Obama, or Putin today. You loved him or you hated him. Rumors spread about his friend, Lazarus, being raised from the dead (John 12:17-19), and the crowd was hoping to see this dead man walking. Wouldn’t you? Matthew chapter 21 begins…

    As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” (Matthew 21:1-3)

    I love this! In our day, it might be, “Hank and Ryan, go to the Ford dealer up the street, tell the owner you’re borrowing a Mustang for the Lord, and drive it here.”

    This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

    “Say to Daughter Zion,‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” (Matthew 21:4-5)

    Don’t miss this! One of the reasons we can fully trust Jesus and the Bible is prophecy. Jesus himself fulfilled over three hundred Old Testament prophecies stated centuries before his birth. Here’s one. Zechariah prophesied Palm Sunday.

    The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Matthew 21:6-8)

    The people made way for this processional. There was no police escort or blocked-off streets, but the crowd made their own path to welcome Jesus into the city.

    King Solomon rode into Jerusalem on a donkey centuries earlier, lowly transport for a king. Jesus was even more powerful than Solomon, yet the ultimate demonstration of humility.

    Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8)

    This is our God. This is our King. Jesus loved the people of Jerusalem with an everlasting love, a love that would not die. He looked into their eyes. He heard their cries.

    The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, 

    “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
    “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 
    “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9)

    This was likely not the crowd who would yell, “Crucify him!” This group seems to be spontaneously assembled, more like those Jesus called “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” They were desperate. “Hosanna” meant “save now,” a plea for help, salvation, and rescue, though it seems to have an element of praise and adoration in this scene.

    The road would have been rough and rocky. Even today it is anything but smooth. Jesus was a celebrity, riding on a donkey, jostling from one side to the other.

    Jesus knew the road ahead, not just the path of the people but the path to the cross, the instrument of death he would face days later. Yet Jesus did not weep for himself. He was sad for the city, for Jerusalem, for its people, it children. He knew the crowds were looking for freedom, deliverance from Rome. They were probably less aware of the oppression of their sins, but they sought a savior from tyranny.

    When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” (Matthew 21:10)

    The whole city was stirred. Children were especially noisy and excited. Perhaps they heard of Jesus’ great love for kids in a world where only men were given respect and honor. We know the religious leaders were greatly disturbed by the cheering of the children, maybe aware of how kids often bring their parents to faith.

    I want to camp out for a moment on the city’s question, “Who is this?”

    The people did not have access to 24/7 news channels, billboards, newspapers, or websites. Even if they did, photography had not yet been invented! It was natural for them to wonder who was drawing such attention.

    Who is this? This may be the most important question in human history.

    The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:11)

    Who is Jesus? A prophet? A teacher? God? Human? Messiah? King? Savior? Lord?
    Who is Jesus? That’s what you and I must answer.

    Last week we read about a sign placed above his head, “King of the Jews.” Is he your king?

    Just as his donkey stumbled on the rough road, he knows our road can be difficult. It can be rocky. There can be unexpected surprises, both good and bad. There are joys and sorrows, victories and disappointments. Where is he when things get tough? He is with us, Emmanuel, God with us. I realize this is bittersweet—comforting to know he is present but frustrating when he doesn’t intervene and fix everything broken in our world. “If you’re here, prove it!”

    I don’t have easy answers. I don’t understand a lot of things in this world—death, loss, pain…but he does. Jesus is not a fairy tale character. He’s not a superhero who flew above the storms of life. He experienced temptation and trials. On purpose! He chose to suffer. He went from the streets of Jerusalem to the way of the cross, from palms to passion, from agony to death…and then from death to resurrection. But that’s next Sunday.

    So What?

    The crowds had expectations for Jesus. They wanted him to rescue them from Roman rule. They wanted him to heal their sick. They had plans for him!

    What about you? What expectations do you have for Jesus? A pain-free life? Happiness? Financial prosperity? Instant answers to all of your prayers?

    Jesus knew the hearts of the crowds who shouted, “Hosanna! Save us now!” He knew the hearts of the crowds who would shout, “Crucify him!” He knows your heart and mine, our selfish impulses, our hopes, our dreams, and our secret sins. Yet he loves us. He forgives us for our misguided motives. He washes our sins white as snow. And that gives us reason to sing, reason to rejoice. Today we praise Jesus because he is worthy. He is alive. He demonstrated his love for us. He offers forgiveness and reconciliation. He heals diseases and broken relationships. He provides peace, hope, and joy. We love him because he first loved us.

    Credits: Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Irony, 2 April 2017

    Series: A Love That Never Dies
    Luke 23:39-43

    Series Big Idea:
    Throughout Lent, we prepare for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return

    Big Idea: Jesus’ death was filled with irony…and hope for all sinners.


    The bald guy’s name is Curly.
    The huge weightlifter is called Tiny.
    The psychic’s presentation is cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
    The name
    Judas means praise.

    Irony involves a contrast between appearance and reality, between expectation and occurrence.

    My name is Kirk and we’re in the middle of Lent, the season leading to our remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This series is entitled, “A Love That Never Dies” and to demonstrate a love that will never die, Jesus died. He died a gory, horrific death…because He loves you and me.

    There are so many ironies in the crucifixion account. Dennis sang about many of them.

    Why did a friend betray Jesus?
    Why did he use a kiss?
    Why did King Jesus have to wear a crown of thorns?
    Why did the only perfect human die on a cross like a thief?

    Here are some others:

    The Romans usually nailed each criminal’s charges to his cross. They wanted everyone to know what they did…and the fate of those who try to do the same thing. Crucifixion was meant to be a deterrent. The message was, “If you steal, this will happen to you. If you murder, this will happen to you.”

    Jesus’ charge? First, it was written in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Tri-lingual! Latin for the Romans, Greek for those in commerce. Hebrew for the Jews. And the charge said, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The irony is the charge was true. He is the King of the Jews. He’s also the King of the Romans, King of the Gentiles, He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords. And the King of all hung dying for those who rebelled against his rule and that of His Father.

    He wants to be king over you and me, too. He’s not an insecure ruler seeking power and control. Instead, He rules benevolently, with love and grace, mercy and forgiveness. He is a good King. The best King!

    Our text today from Luke 23 begins at verse 39

    One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)

    Yes, Jesus is the Messiah.
    Yes, Jesus is the Savior.
    Yes, at the very moment he was in the midst of saving every man, woman and child who would choose to follow him as LORD.

    This passage reminds me again of the layers of suffering Jesus endured.

    He wasn’t just stripped naked.
    He wasn’t just beaten.
    He wasn’t just pierced with nails.
    He wasn’t just betrayed by one of his closest friends.
    He wasn’t just tired from a night of prayer while his disciples were sleeping.

    He gets insulted by a criminal hanging beside him. I can only imagine the tone. Most of communication is non-verbal.

    “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

    On the other side of Jesus was a criminal with a completely different attitude.

    But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)

    Do you feel the irony? The criminals were punished justly, but Jesus had done nothing wrong. Obviously this criminal had faith. He feared God. We don’t know exactly what he did to deserve execution, but people have faith have been known to make mistakes…and even commit crimes.

    Some of the most vibrant followers of Jesus live behind bars. Their sins, like those of the criminals on Calvary, are known. They are branded—child abuser, thief, drug dealer. They don’t have the option of putting on a fancy suit and parading around on Sunday mornings pretending to have the perfect life, the perfect spouse, the perfect kids. They are humble. They are broken. They are desperate for redemption.

    Oh how I wish that were the posture of every Christian. We all need a Savior, a Redeemer, a King. Just because my sins haven’t put me on death row doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus. Just because many of my sins are “acceptable” sins like worry and anger doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus. Just because my sins are not always visible like pride, judgmentalism, jealousy, and impatience doesn’t mean I don’t need Jesus.

    Jesus was without sin so He could pay for the sins of the world.

    God became a human so He could pay for the sins of humanity.

    Both criminals heard Jesus’ first words on the cross, a prayer for the very ones who nailed Him there:

    Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:34)

    They should’ve been the ones seeking forgiveness. They knew what they were doing—obeying Pilate’s orders and securing the empire against insurrection and rebellion. They were executing a blasphemer, a troublemaker, a radical.

    But only Jesus truly knew what he was doing: providing a path of forgiveness and salvation for anyone who would repent and surrender their lives to him, to the King.

    The faith-filled criminal beside Jesus realized forgiveness was possible for those who nailed him to the cross. That gave him hope, despite his own sins. He said

    Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

    What a request. What faith!

    Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

    If Jesus could forgive this criminal—this person who probably never went to church, read the Bible, gave money to the poor, or went on a mission trip—he can forgive you and me. If Jesus wanted those who pounded the nails to be forgiven, you and I have hope.

    Another irony comes from the crowds who taunted and shouted

    “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. (Matthew 27:40-42)

    The religious people got involved. Jesus didn’t just die for criminals. He died for the self-righteous, for the proud. They said, “If you are the Son of God.” That’s what Satan hurled at Jesus when he was tempted in the wilderness.

    …“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:3)

    “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: 
    “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” (Matthew 4:6)

    The so-called people of God were mouthing Satan’s temptations!

    They urged Jesus to save himself at the very moment he was dying to save them!

    To save us, Jesus could not save himself. In a love that could not die, Jesus died. His love kept him on the cross. Love for you. Love for me.

    So What?

    Some of you see yourself like the criminal, paralyzed by guilt and shame. You blew it this week. You lashed out at your kids. You indulged in porn. You drank yourself silly. You lied to your boss.

    You need forgiveness. You need grace—unmerited favor. You need Jesus.

    Some of you are on the opposite extreme. You’re religious, self-righteous, and a really good person. Your reputation is so stellar you think you’re almost perfect. You’re here every Sunday, always put money in the offering plate, and have even memorized parts of the Bible.

    You need forgiveness. You need grace—unmerited favor. You need Jesus.

    I’m a recovering Pharisee. Pride is arguably the worst of all sins, the root of them all. It’s subtle because it’s usually unseen…and rarely punished. But it kills relationships. It separates us from others…and God. I need Jesus.

    Perhaps the greatest irony of the crucifixion is God’s love for sinners. As we recently saw

    You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

    He didn’t die because we were good.
    He died because we were bad. We were sinners. We are sinners.

    I believe some of you still struggle with God’s ability to forgive you and truly love you. I struggle to fully comprehend God’s grace. But whether you believe it or not does not make it true or false. I have discovered the Bible can be trusted. It has been tested. It works.

    The good news, the gospel, the message of our faith is Jesus is LORD. He is our Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King. His love never fails. His arms are reaching out to embrace you…but He won’t force Himself upon you. He simply invites you to follow Him. I accepted the invitation decades ago and I’ve never regretted it for a second.

    Credits: Some ideas from Rev. Steven H. Albers, CTA.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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