From Death to Life, 21 April 2019

From Death to Life (Easter)
Series—The Quest of the Good Shepherd
Luke 24:1-8

Series Big Idea:
Love is one of the most misunderstood words in our culture, yet it is at the heart of the two greatest biblical commandments: love God, love neighbor.

Big Idea:
The resurrection changes everything—past, present and future.

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Welcome to Resurrection Sunday, our annual Easter celebration, the biggest day on the Church calendar. This is the day we remember the greatest moment in history, when the God who came to the world He created died for the sins of humankind and rose from the dead. He was crucified on a cross, the most horrific torture known in the day, yet he conquered sin and death. He arose. Hallelujah!

Although the vast majority of USAmericans believe Jesus died and resurrected, you may be skeptical. If you’re not convinced Jesus is alive, just imagine for a few moments that he is living, that he hears our prayers, that his promise to return is true, that his death was an acceptable sacrifice to pay for the sins of every man, woman and child who receives the gift of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation extended to them. Listen to this amazing story, the Easter story, the events recorded by a doctor named Luke of what happened following the horrifying death of Jesus:

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Luke 24:1)

You just can’t make this stuff up! If Luke—or any other writer—was creating fiction, they would never mention women as the first eyewitnesses of the empty tomb. Women were second-class citizens in the Roman Empire. The authenticity of Dr. Luke’s account is strengthened by details such as this.

All four gospels—or “good news” biographies of Jesus—mention the Resurrection occurring on the first day of the week. Sunday became the day of Christian worship as a result, so this detail is significant, too, since the Jewish Sabbath is from Friday night until Saturday night.

Why did these women—named in other biographies of Jesus—go to the tomb? They brought spices to give his body a proper burial. The original Greek word for spices here is…
aroma. Interesting.

In Matthew’s biography, after the death of Jesus, we read:

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” (Matthew 27:62-64)

It’s ironic that a group of unbelievers remembered Jesus’ prediction that he would rise from the dead, yet his own followers seemed clueless.

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard. (Matthew 27:65-66)

A Roman guard unit consisted of sixteen soldiers—four groups of four. Four would stand in front of that which they were guarding and the other twelve would be behind them, often sleeping in shifts.

Sixteen soldiers were guarding the tomb on Friday, but they weren’t there on Sunday! Back to the women with their spices:

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, (Luke 24:2)

The stone is believed to have been 1.5 to 2 tons!

but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. (Luke 24:3)

I can’t imagine how they felt. Was the body stolen? Who moved the stone? I’m sure the main question was, “Where is the body of Jesus?”

While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? (Luke 24:4-5)

This is a great question!

The universal symbol of the Christian faith is the…cross. It fits nicely on a necklace, is easily constructed with two pieces of wood, and can be found around the world. But the cross is an object of torture. It’s an image of death.

The cross is incredibly important because on it Jesus died for the sins of all who follow him, declaring him LORD and Savior. He lived a perfect life so he could die as a perfect sacrifice for sinners like you and me—imperfect people stained by our failures that separate us from Almighty God.

Our culture is filled with stereotypes and impressions of heaven and hell. Don’t expect heaven to be a place with people floating around playing harps, and don’t look for red guys with pitch forks running around in hell. Let me give you two simple definitions:

Heaven is where God.
Hell is where God isn’t.

Because God is holy and intolerant of sin, our sin separates us from God. That’s why Jesus came, lived, and died—to pay the price, to take our punishment, to cover our sin. The wages of sin is death and we must pay…or we can let Jesus’ death pay it. It’s our choice.

Contrary to statements about God sending people to hell, C.S. Lewis famously said, “All that are in Hell, choose it.” We choose to believe in Jesus, follow him now, and spend eternity with him in heaven—where God is—or we can reject him now and spend eternity in hell—where God isn’t.

But back to our text:

He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” (Luke 24:6-7)

Jesus predicted not only his death, but his resurrection. Not even Harry Houdini, David Copperfield, or Criss Angel can do that!

Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:8)

Have you ever missed something someone told you? I admit sometimes I’m not the best listener and someone will say to me, “I told you…” Ugh!

Jesus died and came back to life. Nice story. Even if it’s true,

So What?

I’m so glad you asked! In one statement:
the empty tomb changes everything!

First, the empty tomb changed the past.

The past two thousand years have ushered in arguably the greatest movement in history. Jesus didn’t come to start another religion, but he did come to show us what it means to be human. He lived a perfect life, preached the greatest sermons, died to reconcile all humanity to God,…but didn’t stop there.

Many people of history have lived extraordinary lives and done incredible things. Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Aristotle, Galileo, Alexander the Great, Plato, William Shakespeare…but they’re all dead. It would be foolish to try to talk to them, even if you were to visit their burial site.

But Jesus is alive, and that changed everything. Paul, one of the leaders of the first Christians, wrote to the church in the Greek city of Corinth:

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

I think that’s clear. Without the empty tomb, the Christian faith is useless. A few verses later, Paul writes,

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)

That’s a pretty bold thing to say. Without the resurrection, our faith is futile, we are living a fantasy, our sins are eternal stains keeping us from Almighty God, there’s no hope for the dead, and we are most to be pitied.

Most people today acknowledge Jesus as an historical figure. Muslims believe in him. Hindus believe in him. Even atheists believe Jesus walked the earth. The question is,

“Who is Jesus?”

The Bible plainly teaches several things:

Jesus is fully God.
Jesus is fully human.
Jesus is perfect.
Jesus died.
Jesus rose from the dead.

By the way, Paul also noted:

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:6)

If you take all of the witnesses and brought them to court to testify for six minutes each, it would take more than 50 hours to get through the testimony. And countless followers of Jesus have become martyrs, dying for their belief not only in the person of Jesus, but also his death and resurrection.

The empty tomb changed the past.
The empty tomb changed the present.

Think for a moment about something broken in your life, something seemingly hopeless.

This past week a friend was devastated by a house sale that fell through. Another failed to get a job they really wanted. Our world witnessed the loss of part of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Every day we’re confronted disappointment, suffering, and even death.

I can’t imagine the horror of Jesus’ friends as they watched him hanging on a cross, his life extinguished before their very eyes. It’s as if they invested three years building a house, only to watch it go up in flames…with no insurance!

In the classic tale
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, there’s a scene where the great and mighty Aslan is killed on the Stone Table, devastating young Susan and Lucy. But that wasn't the end of the story.

I’ve had many storms in my life which seemed like dead ends. Loss. Hopeless.

But just as Jesus went from death to life, so also many things in my life have been resurrected. I’ve experienced redemption. I’ve found delightful surprises when I turned the page of my story. I’ve discovered miracles are real.

I was reminded of this in the movie
Breakthrough, a true story of boy who fell through the ice and was declared dead for 45 minutes before coming back to life, walking out of the hospital on his own, and living without brain damage three weeks later.

The empty tomb changed the present, offering hope to those who believe in miracles, who embrace the supernatural, who have faith in the living Messiah.

This doesn’t mean life is easy. In fact, Jesus promised us we would have troubles in this life, but he also promised to be with us through the storms of life…always.

The empty tomb changed the present. Finally,

The empty tomb changes the future.

One famous song says, “Because he lives/I can face tomorrow/Because he lives/All fear is gone/Because I know he holds the future/And life is worth the living/Just because he lives.”

Some people say Christianity is all about going to heaven when you die. Remember, heaven is where God is, and if you follow Jesus in this life, you will follow him in the next. 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)

This isn’t just a reference to the next life, but to a whole and lasting life. An abundant life. A life filled with meaning and purpose and hope and peace. Christianity is all about going to heaven before you die, experiencing God’s presence and power now. But followers of Jesus are promised an incredible future, new bodies like Jesus’ resurrected body, eternity with God, a reality without temptation or sin. Here’s a sneak preview of what is to come:

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

If Jesus is still dead, I’m hopeless, my faith is useless, my destiny is eternal separation from God in hell because of my sins, and I am, indeed, to be pitied.

But I am convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus is alive, and that changed the past, the present, and the future.

I have resurrection power.
I have hope.
I have peace.
I have freedom—from sin, darkness, eternal death, and shame.

All because of an empty tomb.

Have you experienced the living Jesus? We can all read about dead people from the past, but Jesus is alive and wants a relationship with you. This isn’t about religion—trying to do good things to make God approve of you. He is already crazy in love with you and proved it by sending Jesus to die for you. This isn’t about tradition. This is about a person, a living person, Jesus.

But no gift is yours until you accept it. A check is worthless until you cash it. A winning lottery ticket cannot buy anything until it is redeemed. And the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross—his claims of divinity validated by his resurrection—is only sufficient if you confess your sins, repent and turn away from your life of sin, and receive the gift of mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love of Jesus.

But it begins with surrender. Let go and let God. I know it’s hard. We all want power and control, but how’s that working out for you? Imagine how different your life could be if the Creator of the universe was in charge? The gospel—the good news—is more than just forgiveness of sins, though Jesus died to make that available to you. Our celebration today is that Jesus is risen. He has conquered all evil, he is seated beside God the Father, he rules the world by his presence until all things have been made subject. Make space for Jesus to be LORD, to be God, to lead your life, to rule your entire life.

There’s no pressure. There’s no guilt. There’s no manipulation. There’s only an invitation.

Jesus said, “Follow me.”

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

He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; (John 11:25b)

Jesus is calling your name today. He wants to call you from darkness to light, from sin to forgiveness, from bondage to freedom.

Have you experienced Jesus, the living Messiah? The empty tomb changed the past, it can change your present, and it can tranform your future.

But you must respond. You must say yes. You must make Jesus your Savior…and LORD.

If you have said yes, if Jesus is your LORD, it’s time to celebrate!

He is risen. He is risen indeed!

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

Matters of Life & Death, 12 November 2017

Matters of Life & Death
Psalm 90:9-12

Big Idea: You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die…spiritually and otherwise.


Death and taxes. It has been said they are the only sure things in this life. We’re not going to talk about taxes this morning. Given this is the Sunday after an election we’ve all heard enough about taxes and government and politicians! But we are talking about death. What a cheery subject! But here’s the truth:

You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you ready?

The odds are very good that someday you’re going to die. Yes, there will be a generation of followers of Jesus who will be alive when Christ returns, but billions of people have been waiting thousands of years for that day and have all…died! People ask me all the time if I think such and such event is a sign that Jesus will return in our lifetime and my answer is always the same: we’re one day closer than we were yesterday.

If we set aside the statistically unlikely possibility we will be living when Christ returns, we must face the reality we will someday die. Perhaps the most difficult thing is we don’t know when. We all have an unknown expiration date!

The media reminds us constantly how our death could come suddenly. We might die of old age like my dear friend Harold whose life we celebrated yesterday, but we could die this morning unexpectedly as dozens did last Sunday morning in Texas. Jesus told a fantastic parable in Luke 12:

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ (Luke 12:16-17)

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ (Luke 12:18-19)

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ (Luke 12:20)

Today is the first day of the rest of your life…but it could also be the last day of your life!

We’re talking today about matters of life and death. I promise there is some encouragement at the end, but it’s so important we are prepared to die. Most of you are aware of the large number of funerals we’ve already done this year, some very unexpected. Some were ready, others not so much.

Here’s a rather poignant photo taken not long ago with two of our sisters who are now in the presence of Almighty God.

All our days pass away under your wrath;
we finish our years with a moan.
Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
If only we knew the power of your anger!
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalms 90:9-12)

You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die.

I know many of you are thinking, “I’m ready. I can’t wait to die and meet Jesus!” But what about those who are left behind? What will your loved ones experience as they grieve your loss? A blessed inheritance? Wishes for your funeral? Keepsake letters of wisdom? Or a mess?

Financial Preparation

When people think of preparing for their death, the first thing they usually think about is their…will. Do you have one? Or do you have a Revocable Living Trust, which has additional benefits? Are beneficiaries named on your assets? What about passwords? Is there a place people can access your login information for bank accounts, bills, and other websites? Is there a list of your assets, including insurance policies, properties, and investments? Proverbs says

A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous. (Proverbs 13:22)

My dad died several years ago of Alzheimer’s. We had years to prepare…and mom did. His transition to the next life was smooth and easy.

My mother-in-law also died several years ago…unexpectedly. When we took her to the hospital, we never imagined she would never come home. She had assets without beneficiaries, an under-water apartment, boxes of papers, and we spent needless time and money in probate court. It was a stressful mess.

If you died today, will your loved ones be grateful or grumbling about your estate? I’m not merely saying leave millions of dollars behind for your kids. Even if your assets are modest, are they organized? Are your plans written in a legal document? Will your possessions easily transfer? I might add have you considered charities in your directives as well as individuals? Do you have a “cheat sheet” with passwords for those left behind to settle your affairs? Are your financial wishes clear?

Medical Preparation

Preparation for death does not always involve death itself. Do you have a living will? A health care power of attorney? Who will make medical decisions if you are unable to do so?

Recently a member of our church family was knocking at death’s door. When his medical records were examined, he listed First Alliance Church as next of kin! Needless to say, the phone call to the church office was quite challenging. Fortunately, he survived and signed papers designating a person to make decisions should he again be incapacitated.

It is imperative that you communicate with loved ones your wishes regarding medical care, especially in regard to prolonging your life. Don’t burden others with decisions you can make today.

Are your medical wishes clear?

Funeral Preparation

Financial and medical preparation are vitally important. Communicating your desires need not be complicated, but must be done…before it’s too late

What about your body? Do you want to be buried? Cremated? A funeral or memorial service? Who do you want to officiate your ceremony? Do you have special songs you want sung, a favorite Bible passage read? Some of us will have months to consider such decisions, but there may be no better time than the present to sketch out some ideas of how you want to be remembered. Are your funeral wishes clear?


Obviously, none of us has complete control over how we will be remembered. Even if we plan the most memorable funeral, we will have no say in how others remember us once we’re gone.

The most important thing you can pass down to your loved ones is not money or even a well-planned memorial service but your legacy, your story, your wisdom, your life. I’ve attended countless funerals and the legacy of the deceased is always apparent.

What do you want on your tombstone? He worked hard and made a lot of money? She was devoted to her hobbies and loved to shop? They generously invested their lives in the next generation, mentoring and tutoring? Their life resembled Jesus and they helped others to know Christ, too?

This is where things get personal in a hurry. Your legacy will not be established during your final breaths. It is established now, today, on an ordinary day, over the course of ordinary days, months, years, decades.

While you’re at it, write notes to your loved ones. Videotape stories of your childhood. Preserve your memories for future generations.

What will people say at your funeral?

Are You Ready?

We’ve talked about ensuring your loved ones are ready for your death, but what about you? You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you ready? I know many of you are, but many of you are not. You hope you’ll make it to heaven when you die, but are you sure? How can you know for sure?

First, contrary to popular belief, we don’t get to heaven by being good…because God’s standard is perfection. If you’re not perfect, you’re out of luck! Going to church and giving money to the poor, and volunteering at Cherry Street Mission will not erase the sins you’ve committed…those sins we’ve all committed. The book of Romans is quite clear:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)

You, me, Billy Graham, we’ve all sinned and fall short of God’s glory, His perfection. On our own, we deserve eternal punishment for our sins, our mistakes, our rebellion against the Almighty. But this is where Jesus comes in. People often take Romans 3:23 out of context, ignoring the fact it completes a sentence…and ends with a comma! Here’s the complete sentence.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:22-24)

What this means, simply, is Jesus came, lived, and died to pay for our sins. The next verses say

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26)

Some translations use this word “propitiation,” a word meaning appeasement or satisfaction. Throughout history, people have tried to appease God by offering gifts, sacrifices, and doing certain practices. The problem is God requires perfection, and Jesus lived a perfect life so his death on the cross was able to satisfy, appease, and wash away our sins.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10, NIV)

Another translation uses that word “propitiation.”

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10, ESV)

The difference between Christianity and other religions is how they are spelled. Religion is spelled D-O…what we do to appease God. Our faith can be spelled D-O-N-E…it’s about what Jesus has done on the cross. You can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. You can only accept it as a gift of grace…unmerited favor.

You may wonder what you have to do. Simple: surrender.

We often look at Ephesians 2:8-9 because it’s such a powerful text:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Grace is a gift…the greatest gift.

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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. Are you ready?

It my hope and prayer that you surrender your life to Jesus today if you haven’t already. He died for you. He gave everything he had to show God’s love. He wants to be your Savior—forgiving you of all of your sins—and LORD—becoming the leader of your life. It’s not that he wants to manipulate you, God simply loves you and wants what’s best for you. The Bible shows us how to live the most exciting, satisfying life imaginable…while preparing us for the next life.

Death is morbid to many, yet for followers of Jesus it can be an anticipated reunion with our Creator.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants. (Psalms 116:15)

Paul wrote to a church…

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

So What?

Get your finances in order: will, passwords

Get your medical directives in order: living will, power of attorney

Get your funeral wishes in order

Get your spiritual life in order: do you know Jesus or just about him?

A message like this can be a downer, but it need not be depressing. Actually, planning for your death can be a tremendous blessing to your loved ones and even to you. As followers of Jesus, we have hope that we truly are going to a better place. Jesus said

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)

Heaven is where Jesus is, and those who know Jesus as LORD will be with him…forever!
"We're afraid to die because we've actually been afraid to live." - Erwin McManus
"The only proof of life after death is life before death." - Erwin McManus
Now go live like you’re dying…because you are!


Financial Planning

Medical Planning

Advanced Directives Packet (Ohio)

Funeral Planning

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Full Life Now, 27 March 2016

    Full Life Now
    John 10:10

    Big Idea: Jesus didn’t just die so we could go to heaven, He died so we can live now!

    Jesus didn’t just die for our future. He died for our future, present, and past. Eternity has begun.

    Today is the first day of the rest of your life, and it’s a life God wants to be abundant, fruitful, exhilarating, and full.

    He is risen! He is risen indeed!

    My name is Kirk and I’m thrilled you’ve chosen to spend your Resurrection Sunday morning with us! There is no greater day on the calendar than today. This is our Super Bowl, New Year’s Day, Summer Vacation, Mardi Gras, Memorial Day all packed into one 24-hour period. Today is the ultimate celebration of life.

    We often take life for granted…until it is threatened or lost. We live life day after day, perhaps wishing for a better job, better weather, better relationships, or a better car. We’ve all been fed the message that the pursuit of happiness is something we all deserve, and nearly every advertisement is designed to convince us we’re not living life to the full until we have their product or service.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up. Why are you here? No, not why are you in this place at this time, but why are you on this planet? This question has haunted people for generations. What’s the meaning of life?

    Earlier we saw a promo for Alpha, an interactive exploration of this question I have experienced several times. Whether you’re an atheist dragged here today by a family member, an agnostic searching for answers, or a follower of Jesus looking to deepen your faith, Alpha is a fantastic way to deepen your spiritual life.

    Life. There’s that word again.

    Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Here’s the way one enemy of early Christians who later followed Jesus describes it:

    I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NLT)

    With all due respect to other faiths, unlike many religious figures throughout history who are no longer living, the message of Christianity is that of a living God, a God who conquered death. It’s the foundation of our faith. Without the resurrection, Christianity is, uh, dead. Paul, quoted earlier, continues…

    And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. (1 Corinthians 15:17-20, NLT)

    Today we celebrate that Jesus is alive. His resurrection surprised many, but 700 years before the birth of Jesus Isaiah prophesied that Jesus

    • - Would die (Isaiah 53:8b)
    • - Would be crucified between two thieves (Isaiah 53:12)
    • - Would be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9)
    • - Would resurrect from the dead (Isaiah 53:10-12)

    On Friday we remembered the death of Jesus on the cross. It’s important to remember why He died.

    “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NLT)

    Jesus died for every man, woman and child…Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, Christian, and agnostic. He died so our sins can be forgiven. He died to pay the punishment we deserve to pay for our evil deeds. He died to reconcile us to our perfect, holy, heavenly Father who sent Him.

    This is love.
    This is life.

    Have you experienced the love of Jesus?
    Have you experienced the life of Jesus?

    The passage says those who believe—those who surrender their life to Jesus—will have eternal life.

    Years ago I heard the story something like this:

    God loves us.

    We sin and are separated from a perfect, holy God who cannot tolerate sin.

    Jesus died in our place, to forgive us, to reconcile us to God, to make us holy and pure.

    We need to believe in Jesus, receiving the gift of eternal life He offers us.

    This is all true, but it leaves one lingering question…

    What do we do now?

    If Christianity is just about what happens after we die, what do we do in the meantime?

    If Easter is about a past event and eternal life is about the future, what about now?

    Jesus said,

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

    He came that we would have
    full life now. We are promised an eternity with God. That’s fantastic, but He wants us to experience full life now.

    A life with
    hope—hope that someday every wrong will be righted, that every war will cease, that justice will prevail, that peace will come.

    A life with
    joy—not merely happiness but a deep sense of contentment no trial or tragedy can erase.

    A life with
    love—unconditional acceptance from our heavenly Father which allows us to love and forgive others, not because they or we deserve it but because we’ve been given the ultimate gift of love from Jesus…His very life.

    A life with
    meaning—realizing we’re not an accident but cherished children of Almighty God who created us in His image with dignity, value and worth.

    A life with
    security—knowing nothing we can do can make God love us more than He already does…and nothing we can ever do can make God love us less.

    A life with
    grace—undeserved favor from our Father just because He loves us but won’t force Himself upon us which is why we must receive the gift of life, Jesus.

    Religion is spelled D-O. It’s all about what we try to do for God.

    Christianity is spelled D-O-N-E. It’s about what God has done for us.

    When my son was younger he wanted to learn about other religions. I said, “Go for it! Study other religions. We are the only ones with grace. Every religion says you must pray, study, eat or not eat, drink or not drink, do certain things…and hope God will love you. Only Christianity has grace.”

    The Bible says

    God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT)

    It’s all about Jesus, His death, and His resurrection. One of the most popular songs is called “Amazing Grace.” Grace truly is amazing. You cannot earn it. You cannot do things to get it. You cannot work for it. You cannot buy it. Like any gift, you can only accept or reject it.

    Will you accept or reject the gift?
    Will you accept or reject Jesus?

    Do you want to continue to be in control or are you ready to
    let go and let God…be God and King and LORD?

    God’s love, His forgiveness, His grace…they are incredible! They are the reason for Easter. Today is a celebration of life…eternal life, full life, dynamic life.

    Are you living a full life now? I love what N.T. Wright says…

    …we should make Easter a forty-day celebration. If Lent is that long, Easter should be at least that long, all the way to Ascension. We should meet regularly for Easter parties. We should drink champagne at breakfast. We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets. And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration. We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, “What is the meaning of this outrageous party?”

    I’m embarrassed to say I’ve met boring Christians. That should be an oxymoron! We have more to celebrate than a sports victory, a job promotion, or a birthday. Followers of Jesus should throw the best parties…and live the best, most fulfilled lives.

    Jesus told one woman…

    Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; (John 11:25)

    Jesus is the resurrection.
    Jesus is the life.

    Know Jesus. Know life.
    No Jesus. No life.

    Ironically, many have died simply because they claimed Jesus was alive. He didn’t come to make bad people good. Jesus came to make dead people come alive. When we die to ourselves, our agendas, and our pride and fully surrender our lives to Jesus He is able to do more than we can ever dream or imagine. It may not always be easy, but we are never alone. He promises to be with us always. He promises to lead us and guide us. He promises to give us full life now…and forever.

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

    Because He LIves, Easter 2015, 5 April 2015

    Big Idea: The resurrection changes everything!

    The Butterfly Effect

    chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.” So states Wikipedia.

    Put into plain English, the Butterfly Effect, attributed to Edward Lorenz, is a belief that a butterfly’s wings flapping eventually create a typhoon that hits land on the other side of the world.

    A snowflake by itself weighs nothing, but enough of them will collapse oak trees and roofs.

    A woman named Rosa Parks simply sat on a bus and sparked the Civil Rights movement.

    Ten years earlier, a man named Jackie Robinson was court-martialed (and acquitted) for not moving to the back of a bus.

    You might call this butterfly effect a chain reaction. One event can change everything. No event changed human history like the resurrection.

    Because He lives. One moment in history about two thousand years ago changed everything. You could argue there were two. The first was the death of Jesus.

    There is unanimous agreement among scholars that Jesus died. He was given an honorable burial. That the tomb was discovered to be empty. That there were post-mortem appearances of Jesus by the disciples. With the exception of Muslims who believe Jesus never actually died on the cross, virtually every scholar will tell you a historical person named Jesus lived, taught, and died. The primary controversy surrounds our celebration today—His resurrection.

    Church history is full of creeds, statements of faith. Perhaps the oldest creed of the Christian faith comes within three years of the death of Jesus (see James Dunn). It was recorded in Paul’s letter to the people in Corinth.

    For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

    • Christ died for us
    • Christ was buried
    • Christ was raised again

    Much is made of the death of Christ, and rightfully so. We remember it each month as we engage in communion or the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist (call it what you like!). What Jesus accomplished on the cross was immensely important. But it was not enough.

    The cross seems to get most of the attention. People have turned the horrific object of torture into a religious symbol, even a celebrated piece of jewelry. The real focus should be on the empty tomb, an image that is, admittedly, a bit more complex to depict! Still, perhaps we should wear empty tombs rather than crosses around our necks!

    When I was in Jerusalem several years ago I was curious about the place where Jesus died. There are two common possibilities, one now inside The
    Church of the Holy Sepulcher and another outside the city, a hill that looks like a skull. Both are interesting sites, but I wanted to see the empty tomb!

    He is risen!

    Paul was a Jesus freak! He was a leading Jewish leader named Saul who persecuted Christians…until He encountered Jesus. His witness alone is tremendous evidence of the resurrection, for dead men are not known to speak, and only lunatics would be persecuted for a lie, a myth, or a mirage as he and so many others were, including countless martyrs…simply for the belief in the resurrection. Paul wrote

    But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:12-19)

    There are many “ifs” in those verses! It’s hard for me to imagine life without the resurrection. Paul continues to state things in the positive.

    But* Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

    * when you see a “but” in a sentence, usually the only thing that matters is what follows!

    Our faith is based on not merely a life or a death but on the resurrection. The resurrection is not only the true center of the Christian faith, but it signals God's initiative in the renewing of creation. The resurrection both embodies and empowers the destiny of God’s people as divine image-bearers from now to forever.

    So What?

    The resurrection is everything!

    I recently bought a book called
    Risen: 50 Reasons Why The Resurrection Changed Everything by Steven Mathewson.

    1. To Give Us Eternal Life (John 11:25–27)
    2. To Show His Power over Death (Acts 2:24; Romans 6:9)
    3. To Heal Us (Acts 4:10)
    4. To Receive the Blessings Promised to David (Acts 13:34)
    5. To Forgive Our Sins (Acts 13:37–38; 1 Corinthians 15:17)
    6. To Elevate His Power and Authority (Romans 1:4)
    7. To Justify Sinners (Romans 4:23–25; Acts 13:39)
    8. To Give Us a New Way to Live (Romans 6:4, 8–11)
    9. To Unite Us with Him in His Resurrection (Romans 6:5–8)
    10. To Make Us Fruitful (Romans 7:4)
    11. To Give Life to Our Mortal Bodies (Romans 8:11)
    12. To End Our Obligation to the Flesh (Romans 8:12–13)
    13. To Provide Us with Future Glory (Romans 8:18)
    14. To Set Creation Free from Its Bondage (Romans 8:21–22)
    15. To Adopt Us into God’s Family (Romans 8:23)
    16. To Intercede for Us at God’s Right Hand (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:23–25)
    17. To Fulfill the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:4; Luke 24:44–47)
    18. To Make Our Faith and Preaching Worthwhile (1 Corinthians 15:14–15)
    19. To Guarantee Our Future Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20–23; 1 Thess. 4:14)
    20. To Destroy All Other Powers through His Reign (1 Corinthians 15: 24–27)
    21. To Destroy the Enemy of Death (1 Corinthians 15: 26, 54–57; Luke 20:36)
    22. To Give Us a Reason to Endanger Our Lives (1 Corinthians 15: 30–31)
    23. To Deliver Us from Self-Indulgence (1 Corinthians 15:32)
    24. To Give Us Heavenly, Imperishable Bodies (1 Corinthians 15: 42–48)
    25. To Clothe Us with His Image (1 Corinthians 15:49)
    26. To Give Us Immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53)
    27. To Overcome the Power of the Law (1 Corinthians 15: 56–57)
    28. To Make Serving the Lord Worthwhile (1 Corinthians 15:58)
    29. To Give Us Hope in Hard Times (2 Corinthians 1: 8–11)
    30. To Give Us a Greater Purpose in Life (2 Corinthians 5:15)
    31. To Let Us Experience God’s Mighty Power (Ephesians 1:18–20)
    32. To Display God’s Amazing Grace (Ephesians 2:6–7)
    33. To Bring Victory into Our Intimacy with Him (Philippians 3:10–11)
    34. To Make Us Full in Him (Colossians 2:9–12)
    35. To Reorient Our Desires (Colossians 3:1–2)
    36. To Let Us Appear with Him in Glory (Colossians 3:4; Acts 1:11)
    37. To Enable Us to Kill Our Old Way of Life (Colossians 3:5–10)
    38. To Rescue Us from Coming Wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10)
    39. To Serve as Our Eternal Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20; Revelation 7:17)
    40. To Give Us New Birth into a Living Hope (1 Peter 1:3; Acts 23:6; 1 Thess. 4:13–14)
    41. To Glorify the Lamb of God (1 Peter 1:18–21; Acts 3:13–15)
    42. To Show That Death Does Not Stop Us from Living (Matt. 22:30–32; Rom. 14:9)
    43. To Confirm His Words about Being Raised to Life (Matthew 28:5–7)
    44. To Continue the Mission of God (Matthew 28:18–20)
    45. To Share His Presence with His Followers until His Return (Matthew 28:20)
    46. To Teach More about the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3)
    47. To Prove God’s Commitment to Justice (Acts 17:31)
    48. To Make Possible the Judgment of Wicked (Jn 5: 28-30; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:11-15)
    49. To Give Him Complete Supremacy (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:4–5)
    50. To Provide Life in the Unfiltered Presence of God (Revelation 21:3–4, 22; 22:1)

    Because He lives…we are alive.

    • literally true via creation (John 1:1-4)

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:1-4)

    • figuratively true in that we have abundant life (John 10:10)

    The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

    • eschatologically true (John 11:25-26; John 3:16)

    Jesus said to her [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. (John 11:25-26a)

    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)

    • Because He lives…we have a future

    • a future with Him, forever

    Because He lives, resurrection is possible. All things are possible.

    Today is the greatest day on the calendar! It’s bigger and better than Christmas, your birthday, the Super Bowl, and Groundhog Day combined!

    Everything changed on Resurrection Sunday and because He lives, there is hope for all of us.

    • Because He lives…we have hope.

    To Show His Power over Death (Acts 2: 24; Romans 6: 9)

    • nothing is impossible for God
    • sin and death have been conquered
    • what should we fear?
    • bad news is temporary
    • the best is yet to come
    • God is working NOW (Jesus is alive!)

    As a pastor on Easter I’m supposed to tell you because Jesus rose from the dead,

    • there’s hope for you dead marriage
    • there’s hope for your dead financial situation
    • there’s hope for your dead relationships
    • there’s hope for your dead-end job
    • there’s hope for your dying body
    • there’s hope for your dead emotions

    Because He Lives (Amen)

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    The Walking Dead, John 11:38-57, 17 March 2013

    Big Idea: Jesus specializes in raising the dead. He is life!


    For reasons unknown to me, zombies are all the rage in our culture today. There are books, films, walks, and even festivals! Have you noticed? There are various definitions of zombies, but for our purposes let’s define them as dead people that come to life. It sounds crazy doesn’t it? It’s clearly the stuff of movies and TV shows like The Night of the Living Dead and The Walking Dead. Some are even preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse! Are you a fan of zombies?

    Perhaps one of the attractions of zombies is that we are afraid of death, but zombies is such a ridiculous notion that we can get creeped out but not truly afraid since we all know zombies are fiction and dead people don’t come back to life…right?

    If you’re easily offended, don’t read the Bible! There are some very disturbing images in the pages of Scripture, including today’s text. The Bible is not Rated G!

    We continue our series on the Gospel of John, a biography written by one of Jesus’ best friends. His purpose in writing can be found in chapter 20:

    Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:30-31)

    The first ten chapters have presented Jesus as a controversial figure, attracting great crowds through miracles and teachings while creating great hatred among the envious, legalistic, judgmental religious leaders.

    It’s easy to skim through familiar stories, but as we read the narrative, imagine you had never heard it previously. Imagine that you have no idea what follows and each word is a choice mortal in your ears.

    Last Week

    The first part of John 11 describes Jesus being told that His friend, Lazarus, is sick. Instead of healing Him, Jesus hangs out for two days only to learn that He has died. Mary and Martha understandably question Jesus, saying that if only He had gone to their brother, He could’ve been healed and they would’ve been spared the tremendous grief and loss of this deeply-loved man. They said, “If only…” and the challenge last week was whether we love and trust God because of what He does for us or simply for who He is. Is your faith dependent upon answered prayer?

    Jesus’ friend Lazarus is dead. His sisters can’t understand why Jesus didn’t heal him. But the story’s not over!

    Scene Four

    Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

     “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” (38-39)

    Jesus is “once more deeply moved,” though the Greek verb mentioned last week is used again here, meaning outraged. Jesus is life, and here He is facing His opponent, death.

    This was a “rolling stone” tomb that could be rolled, like a giant stone wheel.

    We said last week that four days in the tomb was significant because the rabbinic teachings believed that when a person died, their spirit hovered over the body for three days so if the body was resuscitated, the spirit would return to it. After three days, the spirit was gone and there was no hope for the body.

    In an early medieval Jewish tradition, Jews would actually go to the cemetery three days after burial to see if the person was living (I wonder how often they were surprised!).

    Martha rightly cautions Jesus about the smell. Dead things stink, especially after four days! John wants us to know that Lazarus was clearly dead.

    Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” (40)

    As we have noted so many times previously, God’s timing is never late but rarely early. His glory is far more important than our temporary happiness.

    So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (41-42)

    It is obvious that Jesus has already been praying for Lazarus. It’s not an impulsive request.

    He looked up. This was common posture for Jewish prayer, looking up and likely with hands raised. He prays aloud not to impress, but to allow those around to hear His conversation with the Father. He says, “Father” rather than “our father” to show the intimacy in their relationship. Jesus was constantly following the mission and will of the Father.

    When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

    Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

    Jesus uses an authoritative shout to call Lazarus.

    Dead Man Walking! Here is one of the first zombies in the Bible! I love the phrase, “The dead man came out.” Wow!

    Can you imagine being a character in this story? An eyewitness?

    Dead bodies were considered unclean and untouchable in Jewish law, but Jesus had a reputation for touching the untouchable and most likely gave Lazarus an embrace that some would’ve found offensive.


    There are many biblical stories that I wish were captured on video! This is certainly one of them. What was the reaction of Martha? Mary?

    What was Lazarus’ reaction! What did he think about all of this? Would you want to return to this planet after four days of “sleeping?” I’m sure his sisters were delighted, but I wonder if Lazarus wanted to return! Of course, he did eventually. They say that death and taxes are the only certainties in life. Lazarus was given a second life—bonus time—but he eventually died. As we noted last week, death is merely sleeping for the believer. Jesus offers real, eternal life to those who respond to His invitation. He created us and is able to recreate us, providing freedom from both sin and death.

    I often wonder how anyone can live without Jesus. Death surrounds us. You are one day closer to the grave than you were yesterday! You can be one day closer to eternal life with Jesus, though, which is far greater than anything this life can offer.

    “Death is but a gateway to further life and fellowship with God.” - L. Morris

    One More Thing…

    You might think that anyone who witnessed this scene followed Jesus, but tragically that was not the case.

    Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

    This is Jesus’ last public appearance before His death. His public ministry ends here. Some saw the dead raised but they still didn’t believe. Instead, they tattled on Jesus to the religious leaders who would have Him crucified.

    The problem is not with the evidence but the unbelief of man. Many say they will belief if they see Jesus or a miracle, but many saw dead Lazarus raised from the dead and still refused to believe. Signs alone cannot prompt faith. Experience alone is not enough to persuade the human heart. This is why we need words to accompany our deeds.

    Not only did eyewitnesses not believe in Jesus, this beautiful miracle or resurrection actually led to Jesus’ death!

    Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

    What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

    Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

    He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

    Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.

    When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the Feast at all?” But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him.
    (John 11:47-57)

    So what?

    There are many people today that are zombies. They are the walking dead. They were at one point dead in their sin, yet they have come alive in Jesus Christ. Jesus is life! He is The way, The truth, and The life (John 14:6).

    Sometimes God answers our prayers instantly. Sometimes He takes His time! Hebrews 11 tells us that many of us will live our entire lives seeking to understand God’s responses to our prayers, but Daddy knows best. His timing is perfect. His will and plans never fail. He can be trusted.

    No matter where you find yourself today, no matter what is dead in your life, Jesus is life. He conquered sin and death. He caused the dead to rise. He did so Himself, in case you haven’t heard! We’ll talk about that in two weeks! We worship the God of miracles. He is alive today and wants you to experience life—abundant life (John 10:10), eternal life, supernatural life.

    What is dead in your life that Jesus can resurrect?

    You can listen to the podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    Voice, John 10:1-21, 24 February 2013

    Big Idea: We can choose to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd or the voice of the their that wants to steal, kill and destroy.

    Sound is an amazing thing. Whether you realize it or not, there are sounds around us constantly. True silence is rare. What do you hear right now?

    There are a few sounds that stand out from the rest. An alarm usually gets our attention, unless you’re a tired teenager in bed! Living across the street from the Cleveland Clinic, the sound of an ambulance was a frequent interruption to the mundane traffic tones. The human ear is able to process a wide variety of frequencies and noises. Now think about human voices. We have the ability to recognize people that we cannot even see, just by their voice.

    There’s something powerful about one’s connection to a familiar voice. Yesterday I was in Meijer and a friend was telling me about his grandson. They live several states away and video chat frequently, and when the little boy hears the voice of his grandpa, he gets so excited!

    Perhaps nothing seizes our attention more, though, than the most captivating word to our ears—our name. What is your name?

    As we continue our series on the Gospel of John, Jesus’ close friend and biographer tells us a lot about sound, voice, and your name.


    Are you a shepherd? Have you ever met a shepherd? Sheep and shepherds are not common images in our culture today. They were very popular in the Middle East 2000 years ago, and remain so today. It’s not wonder that the Bible is filled with references to shepherds (e.g. Isaiah 40:10-11; Psalm 23). Moses and David were shepherds. There are several references in the scriptures to “false shepherds” (1 Kings 22:17; Jeremiah 10:21; 23:1-2).


    Last week in chapter nine, Jesus healed a blind man and the religious leaders went crazy because it was on the Sabbath. Biblical writers did not include chapter and verse references. Those were added centuries later, so from what we can see, Jesus is continuing His interaction with these self-righteous critics of His. The tenth chapter of John begins with red-letter text, words spoken by Jesus.

    “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. (1-6)

    Can you imagine the scene?

    First, the setting is the
    desert, a desperate place. Today Arab and Jewish children tell stories about the desert much like some cultures talk about deep, dark forests. In the desert food is rare, water is scarce, and deadly creatures roam. In addition, the terrain is often filed with steep cliffs, some with drops of over 1000 feet!

    Sheep are prone to wander. The shepherd’s job is to keep the sheep together and safe. A sheep could be harmed by thieves, wild animals, and injury from wandering.

    Just like my friend’s grandson recognizes my friend’s voice, and just like dogs typically know their owner’s voice, so sheep know the voice of their shepherd.

    The Middle Eastern shepherd even today talks to and sings to his sheep. They often carry a short flute and the sheep learn both the voice of the shepherd and the sound of his flute.

    “During the Palestinian uprising in the late 1980s the Israeli army decided to punish a village near Bethlehem for not paying its taxes (which, the village claimed, simply financed their occupation). The officer in command rounded up all of the village animals and placed them in a large barbed-wire pen. Later in the week he was approached by a woman who begged him to release her flock, arguing that since her husband was dead, the animals were her only source of livelihood. He pointed to the pen containing hundreds of animals and humorously quipped that it was impossible because he could not find her animals. She asked that if she could in fact separate them herself, would he be willing to let her take them? He agreed. A soldier opened the gate and the woman’s son produced a small reed flute. He played a simple tune again and again—and soon sheep heads began popping up across the pen. The young boy continued his music and walked home, followed by his flock of twenty-five sheep.”

    • NIV Application Commentary

    In the desert, sheep need to follow the shepherd if they are to survive.

    Jesus doesn’t lead any sheep, but “his own” (3b). Notice that
    the shepherd knows His name. He knows your name! How cool is that?! The Creator of the universe knows your name.

    Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (7-10)

    That last verse is one of my favorites. Do you see the contrast between Jesus and satan, the thief and the Shepherd?

    “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (11-13)

    How far will the good shepherd go in caring for his sheep? All the way! To death!

    Who influences you? So many respond to the teachings of people who are dead, celebrities with chaotic lives, or even friends that can be fickle. The Good Shepherd is willing to die for you...and He did!

    “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (14-18)

    Throughout Jesus’ life, we see Him submitting to the Father and the Father’s timing.

    As usual, Jesus upset the religious people.

    At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”

    But others said, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?”

    We’ll unpack the reaction of the Jews further next week.

    So What?
    Like sheep, we live in a dangerous world. It might not seem dangerous, but there is a real thief who wants to steal, kill and destroy. He will do anything and everything to speak lies, kill your passion for Jesus, and ultimately destroy you and everything good in your life.

    The thing is, because he’s sneaky and because we often fail to spend time with the Good Shepherd, we mistaken the voice of the enemy for the voice of Jesus. We justify our behaviors because everyone else is doing it. We rationalize the importance of being politically correct and flee from controversy. We want to blend in, be liked, and do what’s popular.

    We all need guidance to navigate through life, but we must make sure we are listening to the right voice. The only way to do that is to spend time with the Good Shepherd.

    I can’t do that for you. Your parents or spouse cannot do that for you. Discerning the voice that brings abundant life requires time in prayer, solitude, silence, and study. Period. There are no shortcuts.

    Whose voice matters to you? A recent study asked high school students where they would turn first in times of crisis or confusion. Mothers came in around number eleven and dads around 25. Friends and music were at the top!

    Students, daddy often knows best. In the case of our heavenly Daddy, He always knows best.

    Friends are influential, not only to students, but adults as well. When is the last time you experienced a tension between popular opinion and the teachings of Jesus? Do you even know the difference?

    As we continue our annual theme of b.l.e.s.s. I want to encourage you to remain on your knees in prayer, listen to God, and study His Word. It’s not rocket science. The more time you spend with someone, the more you’ll know their voice.

    C.S. Lewis said that there are two kinds of people, those who say to God, “Thy will be done” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.”

    Do you know the voice of the Good Shepherd? Do you follow it?

    You can listen to the podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.

    Nicodemus: Alive, 1 May 2011

    Big Idea: Without a second birth we will never know true life.


    Last Sunday was our celebration of the resurrection, the life of Jesus Christ after His death and the life that we can have because of His. Today we begin our 2WordStory series along with over 500 churches in the area...including these:

    What makes you come alive?

    Our Story

    Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” - John 3:1-2

    Nicodemus was one of the most important men in his day. He was a teacher and a Pharisee. The Pharisees were powerful religious leaders. He was also a member of the the Jewish ruling council called the Sanhedrin. Suffice it to say, Nick was a powerful and respected man.

    This is the original Nick at Nite! He’s not sneaking around at night to watch TV, though. Why does he go out at night? We don’t know! It seems that he was afraid, perhaps of the other Pharisees that condemned Jesus. He saw Jesus as something of a peer and wanted to have a Rabbi to Rabbi chat.

    In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” - John 3:3

    Born again. This is an expression that has been used to describe Christians, bit Nick had no clue what Jesus meant.

    “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
    - John 3:4

    And every mom in the room said, “Ouch!”

    Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” -John 3:5-8

    Born again or born from above is a spiritual transformation. We all have been given a physical birth, but being born again requires a spiritual birth. It’s about moving from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God.

    Several interpretations have been given to this phrase “born of water,” but it seems most likely that Nick would see it as a reference to baptism, the water grave in which one dies to their flesh and is resurrected and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, coming alive.

    I love Jesus’ use of the word
    pneuma which means both wind and Spirit. We can control neither the wind nor the Holy Spirit, but we can place ourselves in their path and be moved by them.

    “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
    - John 3:9

    Notice how he still doesn’t understand, yet he doesn’t play it cool, pretending to get it. He honestly shares his confusion.

    “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
    - John 3:10

    I love that! This great teacher doesn’t understand. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t have understood this, either!

    Jesus continues.

    I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. - John 3:11-13

    Jesus is fully God yet fully human. He is the ladder between heaven and earth. He descended in the Incarnation at His birth in Bethlehem and later ascended on the Mount of Olives to heaven where He will one day return.

    Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
    - John 3:14-15

    In Number 21, Moses raised a bronze snake on a pole as a cure for the punishment the people received from God for their disobedience. In fact, you’ve probably seen the snake on a pole in the universal symbol of healing.

    Dying people who looked upon the bronze snake were healed. In the same way, Jesus is foreshadowing His death on a tree and saying that the dying sinners who look to Him will be given eternal life.

    This is the central message of our faith—that Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again for us. He did all of this to restore our broken relationship with our Creator. In fact, the very next verse is likely the most famous and significant verse in the entire Bible.

    “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

    This is the Gospel, the good news. It’s about what Jesus did and our response. All other world religions are about what you DO, but Christianity is about what has been DONE by Jesus.

    The love of God compelled Him to send His one and only, begotten, “only born-one” Son to earth for the purpose of dying.

    As a dad, I have a much greater appreciation for this than I did prior. I have one son and I love him like crazy! I love my beautiful girls, too! When my son is gone overnight to a friend’s house, I miss him. When he’s away for several nights on a trip or at camp, I really miss him. I can’t imagine sending him away for 33 another die...for sinful people! That’s love. In the words of Francis Chan, that’s crazy love.

    This is why we sing. This is why we worship. This is why we give and serve and go and tell and seek to follow Jesus. It’s not because He is a great teacher, though He is. It’s not because He changed the world, though He did. It’s because He proved His love and died for us.

    The text continues...

    For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. - John 3:17-18

    The purpose of Jesus coming to earth was not to condemn. He does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:22-23) but wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

    We have a choice. We can accept or reject Jesus. We can have a relationship with God and enjoy Him forever or we can reject Him and live forever apart from Him.

    This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” - John 3:19-21

    Why do people love darkness? It’s not the dark itself that they enjoy, but what they are hiding. The Light exposes our sins and evil that lead to death. Jesus lovingly rebukes our sin and leads us to repentance and life. Jesus is the way, the truth, the Light, and the life!

    We see later that Nick chose to follow Jesus. He defended Jesus when the Pharisees condemned Him (John 7:50-51). He even helped Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus (John 19:39-40).

    So what’s the secret? It’s not about what you do but what He’s done that gives you life.

    Nick realized it did not matter how good he was, it wasn’t good enough. It doesn’t matter how many soup kitchens you serve, how many times you go to church, or how much money you give away if you don’t know Jesus. Do you know Him? I don’t mean know about Him, but do you really know Jesus? Do you love Him? Have you received His gift of eternal life?

    Have you seen the Light? Have you received the Light? Are you alive?

    You can listen to the podcast here.