New Normal, 26 April 2020

New Normal
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus

Mark 8:22-30

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: A blind man and Peter are both transformed by encounters with Jesus…and we can be, too.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a number of buzzwords and phrases that will forever remind us of this season of life: social distancing, quarantine, and flatten the curve, for example. But there’s one phrase that is rising in popularity…and uncertainty: new normal.

There are defining moments in all of our lives which forever change how we live. Some occur on a societal level such as removing your shoes before flying since 9/11. Others are personal in nature, such as my daughter’s amputation or even my wedding day. I’ve never been the same since.

Nobody knows what life will look like on May 1, much less June, September, or January 1. One thing’s for sure: life will be forever different after coronavirus.

Today we’re going to look at defining moments in the lives of two very different people, one a stranger to Jesus and the other one of his three best friends.

We’re in the middle of a series on the book of Mark: The Real Jesus. This biography is packed with compelling stories about the life of Jesus, and our text in chapter eight is no exception.

The disciples have been traveling with Jesus and

They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” (Mark 8:22-23)

Did the blind man want to be healed? I know that seems like a crazy question, but nowhere are we told it’s his desire. People brought him to Jesus and begged Jesus to touch him. It doesn’t even say they wanted him healed, though I t seems obvious enough to us.

Jesus leads the man outside the village. That’s interesting. Couldn’t he heal the man in Bethsaida? Was he trying to get away from the crowds? Did Jesus want to heal in private?

We’re told elsewhere that the people of Bethsaida were an unbelieving bunch (Matthew 11:21). Jesus spoke “woe” and grief over them. The city was destroyed in AD 115 by an earthquake and was never rebuilt. Anyhow, just as Jesus often withdrew with his disciples away from the lake and crowds, so here Jesus leaves the village.

His healing technique was definitely unique! He spit on the guy! He spit on the man’s eyes! “Jesus, this is not sanitary!” It’s actually quite gross!

It should be noted that Jesus healed different people in different ways. Some people have formulas for prayer, hoping to manipulate God with certain words or behaviors. God’s so much bigger than rituals. He wants to know our heart. The Holy Spirit is alive and active in and through followers of Jesus.

Then the blind man is asked if he sees anything.

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
(Mark 8:24)

Jesus, you’re off to a good start, but he’s not quite healed.

If he recognized trees, it’s possible he was not born blind, but lost his sight through an accident or disease.

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying,
“Don’t even go into the village.” (Mark 8:25-26)

Jesus heals the man. He can see! He’ll no longer be the blind guy, but the guy who used to be blind! I can’t imagine the new normal he experienced from that day forward.

We’ve noted before how Jesus is not eager to become famous. We saw last week how the Pharisees were after him, testing him and trying to ultimately kill him. This was not the time for his true identity to be revealed. He had compassion on people, but didn’t want to be the object of paparazzi! Jesus warns the man to avoid the crowds, to stay away from the village, to go home quietly…as if he could hide his vision for long!

The once-blind man could see. His new normal was filled with light…and life.

LORD, open our eyes to see what You are doing, even in this pandemic.
Open our ears to hear Your still, small voice leading and guiding us.
Open our hearts to receive all You want us to know and experience.

Most people fear change. They avoid it at all costs. Sometimes they will actually choose a worse outcome rather than a “new and improved” option out of comfort and security. But sometimes the “new normal” is actually better. It certainly was for the blind man! I can’t help but think of those precious words in Amazing Grace:

I once was lost, but now I am found
Was blind, but now I see

Ironically, the blind man in Mark 8 wasn’t the only one who couldn’t see. The disciples were often blind, clueless, unable to see and understand who they were following. After Jesus heals the blind man, he leads his friends twenty-five miles north.

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them,
“Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27)

Caesarea Philippi was named after Augustus Caesar and Herod Philip. Its citizens would often declare, “Caesar is lord!” It was a pagan place filled with temples devoted to various gods. I don’t think it was an accident that Jesus asked this question in such a religious place where an emperor and even a goat were worshiped!

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
(Mark 8:28)

There was a similar list in chapter six (verse 14). Jesus was nothing like John the Baptist! He was more like Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who was rejected by his own people, called out the false religious leaders, and persecuted by those in authority.

Who do people say I am?

Much like today, many of the people in Jesus’ day didn’t understand who he was, and perhaps they didn’t really care. Public opinion was defined by Elbert Hubbard as “the judgment of the incapable many, as opposed to that of the discerning few.” Doesn’t that sound like our culture today?

There are two problems with following the crowd. First, the crowd rarely, if ever, follows God. When we do what everyone’s doing, we’re almost certainly breaking the first two Commandments to have no other gods or idols. The second problem with following the crowd is the crowd is always changing. Look at fashion. Look at architecture. Look at what is politically correct.

The Bible is old school. God never changes. He’s doing new things, but He never changes.

He provided for Abraham.
He was trustworthy for Elijah.
He was faithful to the disciples.
He continues to be good…so good!

Every day we make choices to do what’s popular or follow God.

Now Jesus gets personal with Peter.

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Mark 8:29a)

Here was Peter’s response:

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
(Mark 8:29b)

This is the first use of the word “Messiah” in the book of Mark since the first sentence:

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

Messiah was more than a title. It was a politically dangerous declaration, stating Jesus is the true King of Israel. It meant he was the “anointed one.” Jesus is more than a prophet announcing the kingdom of God; he’s the king! Such pronouncements could get Jesus killed. They did! Such pronouncements could get Peter killed. That happened, too! It’s no wonder that…

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. (Mark 8:30)

We often look at Jesus as this wonderful, perfect person of peace who brought nothing but wisdom, healing, hope, and forgiveness to the world. He did, but even good things are threatening to evil. Life is threatening to death. Jesus is threatening to satan.

So What?

The blind man and the disciples experience a new normal. The blind man goes from darkness to seeing people like trees to seeing things clearly.

The disciples go from seeing Jesus as a rabbi to seeing him as a prophet to seeing him as the Messiah.

Where are you at today?
Who do you say Jesus is? It matters. I think it’s the most important question in life. Perhaps you’re thinking, “He’s my Savior.” Great! But there’s so much more to Jesus than the cross and being saved from the penalty of your sins. Author, pastor, and professor David Fitch notes,

“The shift from accepting Jesus as Savior (and Lord) to submitting to (putting complete trust in) Jesus as Lord (and Savior) fundamentally changes the phenomenology (experience) of salvation. Salvation is reframed ... from seeing/experiencing God at work in me (first) to seeing God at work in the world (first) governing all things in Christ for His purposes. Into this I am saved (and find "me" all over again).” – David Fitch

In other words, we need to go from seeing Jesus as a great teacher to seeing him as savior to making him LORD. The boss. Our leader.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, you’re really not in control of much in this life. One event on the other side of the world can quarantine you, cost you your job, make toilet paper scarce, and wipe out your sports channels.

Some of you say you believe in God, but you’re not following him. He’s not leading your life. How’s that working out for you?

Jesus wants to be LORD. Nothing less. He wants your complete surrender and allegiance…not because he’s a control freak, but because he’s got a better way, a better plan. He loves you. He proved it by dying for you. Who else has ever died for you? His message to the disciples was simple: follow me. That remains his invitation today.

I urge you…make Jesus LORD…today…and tomorrow…and this week. What does that mean? It begins with time in the Bible, discovering his plans for your life. It begins with prayer, talking with God. It begins with seeking first his will and kingdom and plan rather than doing whatever you want. By the way, his rules are never meant to harm you or take away your fun. They’re only there for your benefit, for your flourishing.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt our future will be different than the past. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Open your eyes and see Jesus is LORD…and declare it with your life. If you haven’t already done so, give your life to Jesus. Simply says, “Jesus, I give you my life.” When you do, you not only get Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit who is able to guide, comfort, and fill you, making you more like Jesus. We don’t become like Jesus by trying harder. It begins with surrender. It continues with pursuit. It takes a lifetime, but what a journey! What an adventure! A new…better normal!

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

You can watch this online worship experience
here.

Bread & Signs, 19 April 2020

Bread and Signs
Series—Mark: The Real Jesus
Mark 8:1-21

Series Big Idea: Mark’s gospel is the most concise biography of Jesus.

Big Idea: We must never forget God’s abilities…or evil’s capabilities.

Many years ago, I saw a television special featuring comedian Bill Engvall. His debut comedy album was entitled, “Here’s Your Sign.” This is what Wikipedia says about it:

The title of this album refers to a routine framework commonly used by Engvall, which began with his stating that stupid people should have to wear warning signs that simply state "I'm stupid" so that no one will rely on them or ask them anything. He would then go on to tell several anecdotes in which someone asks an (obviously) asinine question, and the question is then answered sarcastically, followed by the statement: "Here's your sign!" For example, a trucker gets his truck stuck under an overpass, and the responding policeman asks "Hey, you get your truck stuck?" The trucker answers, "No sir, I was delivering that overpass and I ran out of gas. Here's your sign!"

Here are some other examples I found online:

It’s like before my wife and I moved. Our house was full of boxes and there was a U-Haul truck in our driveway. My neighbor comes over and says, “Hey, you moving?” “Nope. We just pack our stuff up once or twice a week to see how many boxes it takes. Here’s your sign.”
A couple of months ago I went fishing with a buddy of mine, we pulled his boat into the dock, I lifted up this big ol’ stringer of bass and this idiot on the dock goes, “Hey, y’all catch all them fish?” “Nope. Talked ’em into giving up. Here’s your sign.”
Last time I had a flat tire, I pulled my truck into one of those side-of-the-road gas stations. The attendant walks out, looks at my truck, looks at me, and I SWEAR he said, “Tire go flat?” I couldn’t resist. I said, “Nope. I was driving around and those other three just swelled right up on me. Here’s your sign.”
It may seem odd to follow Resurrection Sunday with a study of the life of Jesus before Holy Week, but we’ve been looking at Mark’s gospel—or good news—of Jesus for literally years now—with many breaks—and we’re going to pick up where we left off…at Mark chapter 8. Here we will see Jesus encounter two groups of people, one receiving a sign and another seeking one.

Today we’re looking at signs…from heaven.

During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.” (Mark 8:1-3)

Two weeks ago, the drama team of H2—Heather and Hank—had a discussion about Jesus feeding 5000 or 4000 people. He did both! In Mark chapter six, Jesus feeds a crowd of five thousand men—plus women and children—with one boy’s lunch after a long day of teaching. Here, Jesus must be doing a three-day conference! The people are hungry, and Jesus wants to feed them. He’s a gracious host! He’s compassionate.

His disciples answered, “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” (Mark 8:4)

Jesus fed a huge crowd two chapters earlier with a boy’s lunch! Hello? Did we already forget God’s power? Who’s in charge here?

“How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.

“Seven,” they replied. (Mark 8:5)

I wonder if the light bulb went on. When did they realize the table was set for another miracle, another sign from God, another moment of heaven kissing earth?

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When he had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; he gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them. (Mark 8:6-7)

I love how Jesus involves the disciples. He’s the greatest leader in history! His investment in eleven ragamuffins in just three years changed the world!

I love his process. If you are a leader or parent or teacher, here’s the best way to transfer knowledge, to “pass the baton.”

I do. You watch.
I do. You help.
You do. I watch.
You do. Someone else watches and I celebrate.

Mike Breen of 3DM, creator of LifeShapes, describes the discipleship square like this:


Where are they at in this story? Step 2. Jesus is doing and they help. Can you imagine helping Jesus?!

The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand were present. After he had sent them away, he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha. (Mark 8:8 -10)

Much could be said about the numbers in this story. Just like standing “six feet away” means more to us than some random distance, the number seven—fish and basketfuls of leftovers—would have had special significance to both the participants in and readers of this account. The number seven is one of the most important numbers in the Bible, as is twelve from the feeding of the 5000. Some have said the twelve baskets represented the twelve tribes of Israel while the seven represents the Gentile world of 70 nations.

Jesus feeds four thousand people who ate and were satisfied. I’m quite sure many saw this miracle as a sign that the long-awaited Messiah was in their presence, though some may have been unaware of the miracle, the sign, the wonder that occurred in their midst. The crowd received three days of transformational teaching from the Messiah…and got a free meal, too!

Just for fun, here’s a comparison of the two feeding miracles.

Mark 6:35-44

Mark 8:1-9



5000
4000
One day
Three days
Food concerns was money
Food concern was remote location
Five loaves, two fish
Seven loaves, a few fish
Twelve small wicker lunch baskets left
Seven large hampers of food left
“You give them something to eat.”
“How many loaves do you have?”
Sit on the green grass
Sit on the ground

Jesus and his disciples leave the scene of this miraculous feeding and head in a boat to Dalmanutha (nobody is exactly sure where this is located along the Sea of Galilee).

The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side. (Mark 8:11:13)

That was a short scene! Jesus gives thousands of people a clear sign of his deity and then the religious folk test him. I love the NIV translation in verse twelve: he sighed deeply. The Pharisees are demanding Jesus to prove he is God, yet they are clueless. Jesus won’t play their games. If they can’t figure it out on their own, he’s not about to waste his time and energy pandering to his critics. He doesn’t give them another sign (the Greek word
semeion means miracle, sign, token, or wonder). Faith does not ask for signs, much less demand them.

Some people today say they’d believe in God if they could see Him. I doubt it. Jesus spent three years performing miracles and while some believed, others didn’t. While some followed, others had him killed.

It sounds good to say you only believe in science, but what is science? It’s ever-changing. What do we know absolutely about COVID-19? The data seems to be evolving, the questions growing.

I’m not against science. I’m grateful for it. There are some things we know with a high degree of certainty, like if I drop a bowling ball above my shoe, I will likely experience pain as gravity moves the ball toward my foot. Or if I run over my wife’s foot with her car…

But some people use science as a justification for their unbelief, their rejection of God. Let’s face it, we all know facts intellectually which we reject practically.

We know Twinkies and Mountain Dew and smoking and drugs can damage our bodies. We know flossing our teeth will reduce cavities. We know rest is important. We know we shouldn’t hoard toilet paper! See, data is not enough. Signs or miracles aren’t enough, either. Faith does not ask for signs. It seeks truth.

Please understand, I’m not talking about blind faith. I’m not talking about a leap of faith. I’m simply saying if you look at the evidence, you’ll discover as many former atheists have that the Bible checks out, the resurrection is a reality, and the real question is will we respond in obedience or rebellion to God.

If you have sincere questions, please ask them. Send me an e-mail. Call our office. We’re here to serve you and help you on your journey. But if your arms are folded and you just want to make demands of God, don’t be surprised if He’s quiet.

The ultimate sign—the ultimate miracle—was Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:22-26; 3:12-26) and that wasn’t enough for many (see also Luke 16:22-31).

For followers of Jesus, we are to remember God’s provision. He taught us to pray for daily bread (echoing Proverbs 30:8). He can not only provide for us, He loves to involve us in the process, whether it’s getting a job so we can feed our families or blessing us with resources to share with others. Jesus could’ve had food fall from the sky (that happened before!), but he allowed the disciples to participate, and he invites us to participate, too. This is why, for example, we have a Benevolence Fund to take care of family members in need.

By the way, sometimes people paint Jesus as this weak, soft, pushover. He was not! He was kind and compassionate—especially to the weak, poor, and hurting—but he did get angry (in the temple with the money changers, for example). He wasn’t afraid to speak the truth, call out hypocrisy, or confront sin…in love.

Now the thirteen men get back in the boat for a ride across the sea, but there’s a problem.

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. (Mark 8:14)

Here we go again! They’re short on bread. They left seven basketfuls back at the shore. What will they do? Will they starve? Hardly! Jesus ignores their hunger and utilizes the bread as an object lesson.

“Be careful,” Jesus warned them. “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” (Mark 8:15)

Jesus rarely said, “Beware” or “be careful,” but when he did, he meant it.

Examples of leaven or yeast include false doctrine (Galatians 5:1-9), hypocrisy (Luke 12:1), and unaddressed sin (1 Corinthians 5). Of course, the Pharisees were guilty of hypocrisy, while the Herodians followed Herod and his vision for the Jews. They both asked for signs (Luke 23:8).

For Jesus, this is a teachable moment. Bread was on their minds, and he used it as a metaphor. Leaven or yeast was forbidden at certain times in the Jewish festivals, not because it was unhealthy, but because of symbolism related to the Exodus.

We are to remember God’s purity. His Word is true. His ways are perfect. Be careful of false doctrine, hypocrisy, and unaddressed sin, church. Beware of pride, self-righteousness, and the things of this world.

Jesus is teaching the disciples to be avoid sin, and all they can think about is their bread shortage.

They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.”
(Mark 8:16)

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them:
“Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

“Twelve,” they replied.
(Mark 8:17-19)

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls eof pieces did you pick up?”

They answered, “Seven.”
(Mark 8:20)

He said to them,
“Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:21)

Mark had written after the feeding of the 5000, the disciples

…had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:52).

That’s the key…the heart. The disciples watch Jesus perform miracles right before their eyes, but they were clueless and filled with unbelief.

The disciples were almost as blind as the Pharisees…with dull minds, hard hearts, and deaf ears (Mark 4:11-12). Ironically, Jesus will heal the blind (8:22-26) and the deaf (8:32-35) later in this chapter.

We are to remember God’s promises. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He has assured us of his forgiveness. He proved His love during Holy Week. So many of our problems arise from failing to know and claim His promises, instead living in fear and plagued by anxiety. You want a sign? The Bible is packed with them!

So What?

Every day we make choices, to trust God or ignore Him. To follow God or abandon Him. To live by faith or be consumed by fear. To remember His promises or forget His faithfulness.

He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:21)

I’m sure God asks me this question all the time.

“Kirk, I’ve proven myself over and over, yet you worry.”
“I’ve provided again and again, yet you’re anxious.”
“I’ve taken care of you throughout your life, yet you wonder if I can handle your concern.”

That’s why I pray, “LORD, I believe. Help me in my unbelief (Mark 9:24).”

In our text today, Jesus provided a sign from heaven, a miracle, a bounty of bread. One writer—J. Vernon McGee—noted, “When God is in it, you will notice, there is always a surplus.” God provided.

We also saw unbelieving people demanding a sign, religious people with no interest in a relationship with God, obedience, and surrender. God is perfect, holy, and pure.

Finally, we see the clueless disciples who can’t understand the history unfolding right in front of them, forgetting God’s goodness and bounty. He always keeps His promises.

In a word, remember. Why? We easily forget!

Psalm 103 says,

1 Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103:1-5)


We are to remember God’s provision.
We are to remember God’s purity.
We are to remember God’s promises.

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

You can watch this online worship experience
here.

Resurrection Sunday: Finding the Cure, 12 April 2020

Resurrection Sunday: Finding the Cure

Big idea: Resurrection Sunday is all about a cure for sin and death.

Welcome to First Alliance Church Online Worship on this Resurrection Sunday. On Friday, we remembered Jesus experiencing death, a brutal crucifixion on the cross.

Many of you are experiencing pain, loss, and grief today. Jesus certainly knows those emotions. He understands.

You may be filled with fear and anxiety. Today we want to fill you with hope. The message of Easter is that God is with us, miracles do happen, eternal and abundant life is available, and Jesus is alive!

My name is Kirk and this morning our parking lot is empty.
Our sanctuary seats are empty.
But so is the tomb of Jesus Christ!

He is Risen! He is risen, indeed!

We want you to not only watch today…we want you to engage. You can chat, request prayer, give, even raise your hand online. Just for fun, can you chat your zip code right now. I think it’ll be fun to see who’s with us this morning.

I want to offer a warm welcome to our First Alliance family. I miss being with you in person, but great things are happening online. A special shout-out goes to family and friends joining us today, including international friends from the University of Toledo. Go Rockets!

COVID-19 has postponed the baseball season. It has cancelled the British Open golf tournament and the Wimbledon tennis tournament. It has disrupted all of our lives. But it can’t change the greatest story ever told, a story that continues to transform lives thousands of years later, for people all over the globe. Welcome to Resurrection Sunday!

It’s time to celebrate! It’s time to sing! Wherever you are, please join us!

Introduction


If you could be famous for one thing right now in our world, what would you want it to be? In these interesting times, being a great actor doesn’t really matter. Athletes are irrelevant at the moment. Politicians should be worried about serving people rather than…well, let’s not go there! If you want to earn the attention and praise of humanity, there’s one simple thing you need to do: discover a cure for the virus.

Can you imagine what it would be like to find the cure? I don’t mean a vaccine, but a cure. Lives would be saved. Fear would diminish. The economy would rebound. We could find toilet paper! Perhaps best of all, I could see and hug our granddaughter again!

Although it’s hard to believe, there is something more devastating to our planet than coronavirus. It not only impacts every person on the planet, it has affected every human who has ever been on earth. It’s so common, we often fail to recognize it, though we encounter it every single day. The word itself has drifted from our vocabulary, yet its presence has never been more real. The greatest problem in our world is…sin. And there’s something greater than a vaccine. There’s a cure!

Pastor Kirk, it’s Easter and you want to talk about sin? Yes! It’s the reason we have Easter. Let me back up just a bit.

Why are you here…on this planet? Have you ever stopped to think about the meaning of life? Until recently, most of us have been so busy going to work, watching sports, being with friends, attending concerts, catching a show at the movies…do you remember those things?!?!?

We’ve been so busy…yet now (I’m told!) many people have extra time on their hands, time which inevitably leads us to think, to ask questions, to consider the deeper things in life. Why are you here?

Despite my workload growing through the pandemic, I’ve been pondering the meaning of life more recently. I’m grateful to have answers, but perhaps you’ve discovered there’s more to your identity than your job, hobbies, friends, or wealth.

Though it has its critics, I’ve found the Bible to be the best explanation for reality, the finest source of wisdom, the greatest collection of timeless stories, and the most satisfying book of hope.

In the beginning, God created. That’s how the Bible begins (Genesis 1:1). God made everything we see, from the sun and moon to the trees, dogs, and ants. Then He made man and woman…to take care of creation and—most of all—to have a relationship with us. We were created to know God. I don’t mean know God like we know about our governor or we know about Thomas Edison or we know about Tiger Woods. I mean we were created to know God like we know our best friend or favorite relative.

It seems hard to believe the Almighty would want to have a relationship with us, but that’s at the heart of why we’re here, why we were created, the meaning of life.

One famous document, the Westminster Shorter Catechism from 1648 states the chief end of man “is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.” Here are some of the supporting verses:

All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. (Psalm 86:9)

For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:36)

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11)   

Unfortunately, relationships can be broken. You probably have experienced that in your own life. Is there anything more painful than a broken relationship?

Our relationship with God was broken by sin. The book of Genesis talks about how God created Adam and Eve and they had a wonderful relationship until the tragic event known as The Fall, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, eating fruit from the one tree in the beautiful Garden of Eden that was forbidden. The sinned, they rebelled, and that broke the relationship. It introduced pain and suffering for humanity. It started the mess we know in our world, a planet filled with hunger, homelessness, violence, and—yes—viruses.

We were created to know God, but sin destroyed that relationship. Our sin is worse than any virus.

There are vaccines for virus’. We all know many men and women are hard at work right now trying to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, something that will make our bodies resistant to the virus.

But no vaccine has ever been developed for sin. We all sin. None of us is perfect. We all fail, mess up, forget, fall, rebel, make mistakes…sin. We rationalize it and call it a little white lie. We justify it by saying everyone does it. We mask it by pretending it wasn’t that big of a deal. We blame by saying it was someone else’s fault.

But we all sin. I sin. You sin. And the problem with sin is it eventually leads to death. The sin of a drunk driver might lead to the death of a human body. The sin of adultery might lead to the death of a marriage. The sin of a gambling addiction might lead to the death of a bank account. Worse of all, sin leads to the death of our relationship with God because He is intolerant of sin. He is holy and perfect…He’s God! He can’t get within six feet—within six yards–within six miles of sin!

There’s no vaccine for sin, but there’s a cure.
Jesus is the cure. He is the only person who was perfect, who was sinless. He came not only to teach and set an example for us of what it means to be human, He came to die for us, to become the cure for sin. His death on the cross paid the price, the penalty for our sin. The most famous verse in the Bible says,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

The cross is the symbol of Christianity. It reminds us of the suffering and agony Jesus endured, not because he did anything wrong, but because we did. He died to offer forgiveness to us. He died to reconcile us to our heavenly Dad. When he died, it looked like hope was lost. It appeared that sin had won. It seemed that evil would rule. But that was Friday.

Jesus’ friends and family who watched him suffer and die didn’t understand what was taking place before their eyes. They didn’t realize death couldn’t hold him. They didn’t know the grave couldn’t keep him. They couldn’t imagine Sunday was coming!!! Here’s what happened…

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)

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)

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)

Jesus defeated death.
Jesus defeated sin.
Jesus is the cure.

Here’s what Paul wrote to a church in modern-day Turkey…

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)

Jesus destroyed death
He shamed sin!
He made a spectacle of satan.
He eliminated evil.


Jesus is the cure for sin.

Here’s the thing about cures: they don’t happen automatically. You need to receive the cure. Usually that means taking medicine, receiving a shot, or undergoing a treatment.

Jesus is the cure for sin, but you must
experience the cure. You must believe Jesus died for you and rose from the dead…and prove that belief by following Jesus, making him not only Savior but also LORD. The cure is not simply about going to heaven when you die. It’s about experiencing heaven—God’s presence—before you die.

You can experience the cure for sin by simply receiving the gift, by saying, “Jesus, I give you my life.” Jesus’ invitation was simple, “Follow me.” Have you experienced the cure? If not, today is a fantastic day to do so. As we celebrate Jesus conquering death, it’s a perfect day for you to experience abundant, eternal life.

I know many of you have been too busy for God. You’ve had no need for God. But now? It’s amazing how one virus can change our world…and us.

I urge you today to experience the cure. Say yes to Jesus. Surrender your life. Repent—turn away—from your sins and follow Jesus. I’m not talking about religion. It’s all about that relationship with God, the meaning of life, the purpose of our creation.

You were made by God.
You were made for God.
You were made for God’s glory.

Some of you have experienced the cure. Maybe you prayed a prayer decades ago in Sunday School or at church camp. Maybe you’ve let your relationship with God drift and it’s time to reconnect. Today would be a great day to do that!

Regardless of where you on your spiritual journey, I want to encourage you to
share the cure. Imagine if someone had the cure for COVID-19 and decided to keep it to themselves. How selfish! How stupid!

Followers of Jesus have the cure for sin, Jesus Christ. We can’t keep it to ourselves. We need to share it—especially now! People all around us are dying—literally and figuratively. Our neighbors are searching for hope. Our friends are desperate for peace. Our families are filled with fear. Jesus is hope. Jesus is the Prince of peace. Jesus is the cure for fear and sin.

Share the cure. Share this video. Share your story. Share God’s story.

I want to give you an action step. On your screen, you can raise your hand. If you’d like to begin your journey today and experience the cure for the first time, please raise your hand now.

If you’ve experienced the cure but your relationship has drifted and you want to reconnect with God, raise your hand now.

If you’ve experienced the cure but kept it to yourself and you want to share it with others, raise your hand now.

Before you go, we want you to know God loves you—that’s what the cross and the empty tomb are all about. Jesus proved his love for you, now you just need to experience and share it.

We love you, too. Our campus is closed, but our staff and leaders remain committed to serving you and your family. More than anything, we want to help you get to know and become like Jesus.

If you’re not on our e-mail list, you can text your e-mail to 419.318.2066.

We have Zoom prayer each weekday morning at 9 AM.

I do a devotional each weekday at 4 PM on Facebook Live…and have some special guests joining me in the coming weeks.

We’ll be back here for FAC Online Worship next Sunday at 10:30 AM, continuing our series on the life of Jesus from the book of Mark.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • You can watch this online worship experience here.
  • Palm Sunday: Welcoming Jesus, 5 April 2020

    Palm Sunday: Welcoming Jesus
    Matthew 21:1-11

    Big idea: We choose each day whether to welcome or reject King Jesus in our lives.

    I’ve lived my entire life in the Midwest, where winter means snow, summer means swimming in the lake, and spring and fall are cool and crisp.

    I’ll never forget my first moments in California. I was a young boy, our family got off the plane and we exited the airport. The warm air was a sharp contrast to the Michigan weather I left behind. But the thing that was most memorable was seeing palm trees.

    One feature of humans is we tend to take things for granted. If you’re watching this from Florida or California or a tropical climate, you probably don’t even notice the palm trees that dot the landscape…any more than I notice the oak, maple, and pine trees in my neighborhood.

    Palm trees are special to me because they signal a special place, usually a vacation in a warm climate. Israel is a warm climate and it’s full of palm trees.

    Hopefully the drama gave you a clear explanation of Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week which includes Good Friday—the day we remember the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross—and Resurrection Sunday, the greatest day on the Christian calendar.

    Palm Sunday is a fascinating story of a crowd in Jerusalem and their reception of Jesus the Messiah.

    Image about two million people gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish Passover celebration. News about Jesus had spread far and wide. The religious leaders were trying to kill him. Many of the people loved him, especially his miracles. The story of him raising Lazarus from the dead was especially captivating.

    Jesus is with his followers and…

    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)

    This is an interesting assignment. Jesus usually walks, but now he tells two of his disciples to go steal two animals, a donkey and her colt! No, it wasn’t theft…but an interesting loan, to say the least. Then again, if someone told you LeBron James or the Pope or Taylor Swift needed to borrow your car, you probably wouldn’t argue. But there’s more to this request than random transportation.

    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, quoting Zechariah 9:9)

    In this scene, there are two animals. Jesus sat on the colt and (foal) and the mother donkey walked beside. People often note how Jesus entered on a lowly donkey but will return someday on a white horse (Revelation 6:2; 19:11). A donkey was actually the royal animal of Jewish monarchs (1 Kings 2:32-40). It was a symbol of peace. A horse was associated with war (and there weren’t many horses in the area).

    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. (Matthew 21:6-7)

    The book of Mark (11:2) tells us this colt had never been ridden, yet King Jesus was able to control the beast. But notice the first sentence:

    “The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.”

    They didn’t protest or complain, they simply obeyed Jesus, even though borrowing a donkey and a colt may have been an unusual request. Since there was no saddle, cloaks were placed on the animals for Jesus. Now the story gets especially interesting:

    A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. (Matthew 21:8)

    There’s the palm branches! A similar incident had occurred about two hundreds years prior when the victorious Judas Maccabaeus arrived in Jerusalem after defeating Israel’s enemies.

    A path of cloaks is laid before Jesus, much like the actions taken for the anointing of King Jehu (2 Kings 9:12-13). It’s also reminiscent of a tale regarding Sir Walter Raleigh who may or may not have taken off his coat and placed it over a muddy path so Queen Elizabeth I could walk without getting dirty.

    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)

    The people didn’t just sing, they shouted. They declared Jesus the Son of David…in the city of David! They were waiting for hundreds of years for the Messiah to rescue them from Roman oppression. The people were suffering…for generations. They wanted a Savior. They were desperate for help. We sang “Hosanna” earlier. It means, “Save now!” This was another ancient prophesy fulfilled. Psalm 118:25-26 says,

    LORD, save us! LORD, grant us success!

    Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. (Psalm 118:25-26)

    Later in the week, Jesus will quote Psalm 118:22-23; Matthew 21:42).

    I used to think the crowds who welcomed Jesus were the same ones who would yell, “Crucify him” days later. Actually, there were at least three different groups of people in the crowd: the people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17-18), the crowd from Galilee, and Jewish residents of Jerusalem. Jesus is the most controversial figure on earth at the time…and still today!

    Some wanted him king, some wanted him killed. Make no mistake, Jesus would triumph (that comes next Sunday!), but only after a shocking and horrifying week.

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

    This is the question. Who is Jesus? There might not be a more important question in human history, including today.

    The Jews failed to recognize their Messiah. Many wanted him killed…and they got their wish! The subject of hundreds of prophecies enters Jerusalem on a colt, yet some have no idea what’s happening.

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

    It’s an amazing scene, and yet I wonder what would happen if Jesus were to arrive on our planet today. Would we welcome him or reject him? N.T. Wright notes,

    ´╗┐People turn to God, notoriously, when there is something they want very badly. Of course, that’s like finally deciding to learn to use a telephone only when you urgently need to call an ambulance; it would have been sensible to find out how to do it earlier, when it wasn’t so important. But that’s how people are. Church attendance goes up in leaps and bounds when a major crisis strikes – a war, say, or an earthquake. Suddenly everyone wants to ask the big, hard questions. Suddenly everyone wants Jesus, in terms of this story, to ride into the city and become the sort of king they want him to be. Give us peace, now! Pay my bills, and hurry! Save the life of my sick child, and do it right away! Give me a job by this time tomorrow! And – perhaps the most common prayer of all – Help!

    Fortunately for us, Jesus has come to seek and save the lost, the broken, the sick, the messed up. He is a God of love, grace, forgiveness, and compassion. But He’s God…and we’re not. He will not always do what we want, when we want…not because He doesn’t love us, but because He does. He has a plan. It doesn’t always make sense to us. Good Friday certainly didn’t make sense. This king the people welcomed into Jerusalem would be hanging on a cross less than a week later, dashing all of their hopes and dreams…until…

    The people made demands of Jesus: save now!

    We make demands of God, too. Heal now! Get rid of the virus now! Get us back to work now!

    So What?

    Palm Sunday is really about the tension between our expectations and God’s actions. Perhaps you’re watching today because God’s got your attention. You’re bored, you’ve watched everything on Netflix, every place is closed, …and maybe you’re getting desperate. Maybe you’re asking bigger questions than, “What’s for lunch?” or “What shall we buy on Amazon?”

    Jesus
    did save, but not in the way they expected. They wanted Jesus to take over the government…and someday the King of kings will rule and reign forever.

    What do you expect from God? Are you blaming Him for the problems in your life? Have you lost your faith? Are you filled with questions and doubts? That’s ok. Tell Him! He’s listening! But remember, He’s God and you’re not. Yes, He wants to save, but He also wants to be LORD. Leader. God!

    We choose each day whether to welcome or reject King Jesus in our lives.

    Moses’ successor, Joshua, once made this famous declaration to the people of Israel:

    But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD
    .” (Joshua 24:15)

    Will you be like the crowds, demanding God operate on your terms? Or will you be like Joshua, seeking to serve the LORD, to worship God, to welcome King Jesus into your life?

    Credits: Some material from N.T. Wright and Warren Wiersbe

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