Sunday Sermon: Palm Sunday, 2020


The biggest decision to ever  make..

 

“When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” At that, Paul left the Council. Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.”

 

And that is the history of mankind when it comes to responding to Jesus. People believe or do not based upon their determination of one thing: Either Jesus did raise from the dead or He did not—there’s no middle ground—and that’s the center of our preaching . If Jesus did raise from the dead, everything He said about Himself and all the prophecies about Him are valid, fulfilled and He is Lord—it’s a stunning defeat for Satan and  for all those that have been denying the depth of God’s love and His plan of redemption. If He was not resurrection, in the body, nothing we say about Christianity really matters and we that preach about Him have misled people and misrepresented God!

 

All of this first came to mind when I graduated from seminary many years ago. I was brought up to believe all that the Bible said was true and to accept all that the preacher spoke from the pulpit was valid and unquestionable. But when I turned twenty-six I went through a crisis of faith and began to wonder if I really believed any of it. How could I be sure that Jesus even existed, let alone rose from the dead? Who is alive today that can testify to His miracles, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and so forth? What if all I have been taught is no more than a fairy tale or,  as Rudolph Bultmann proposed, “myth”?

 

What brought light and drove away the clouds of doubt was my “discovery” of the truth. And here’s what I came to believe: That Jesus of Nazareth really did live, teach, and walk the earth. That He also talked about His death and subsequent resurrection, and He did die a cruel death on a cross. Most importantly, I also came to trust, without a doubt and unequivocally, that Jesus rose from the grave. No man has ever claimed to be God and have power over death and then prove it. That is what changed my ministry, direction and life. I was so sure of it that I determined that there was nothing more important in my life than the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and to preach about it.

 

I could explain the way I came to know this and talk about the Christian apologists that helped me come to this conclusion, but that’s not the point of this devotion. My point is that until you believe in the resurrection you will always be secretly rolling your eyes at the suggestion that Jesus rose from the grave. You will never be sure, certain, and positive that you will also be raised to reign with him forever!

 

Do you really believe? If you don’t, is there anything that you do believe that you have not witnessed first-hand?  (Do you believe in Napoleon, Julius Cesar, that man walked on the moon, in Australia???)

 

If you do not believe, but could somehow be brought to believe, what would it take to  change your mind?

After Jesus’ resurrection the total number of ardent followers was probably somewhere between 11 and 30 people. These “sheep” scattered after the shepherd was struck, just as Jesus foretold. But then something incredible happened. The Holy Spirit descended upon the eleven disciples right after Christ ascended (just as Jesus promised) and the throng watching these eleven young men were astonished! These simple, unlearned men, received the Holy Spirit and began to speak in foreign languages (“poly-glossia”) and the Jews observing this were simply overcome by what they witnessed.

Peter then explained to them about the power of the Holy Spirit and the good news of Jesus Christ and 3000 were added to the eleven. That’s what happens, it appears, when the Holy Spirit takes hold of a group of people that are filled with the Holy Spirit. It’s worth noting that although the early church was heavily persecuted, it continued to grow and by the third century there were over 34,000,000 followers of Jesus. But it began when eleven simple men received the power of the Holy Spirit and unabashedly proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ.

Think about it: When Christ was betrayed on the Mount of Olives and lead away to be tortured, the disciples scattered and ran away. No one came to His rescue or defended Him. Peter denied Him, Thomas doubted Him, the rest kept as far away from Him as possible. Only John was loyal enough to watch Him die on the cross.

Prior to the “Passion” these young men fought among themselves about who was the most important, they complained amongst themselves and had a hard time taking in all that Jesus was trying to teach them about humility, suffering, and desiring God with all their hearts.

But in a very short time after the resurrection and the ascension these young men became very different “apostles”.  After they received the Holy Spirit they were not the same men. In the book of Acts,  Luke explained how the Jewish leaders had Peter and the other apostles flogged for preaching the good news about Jesus. After the flogging (which was a painful and humiliating punishment) they left praising God that were considered worthy for suffering and being humiliated for “The Name”.  These were not the same boys. Something happened to them.

Friends, these men didn’t simply believe in the resurrection of Jesus, they met the resurrected Jesus and ate a meal with Him!  These men were not merely converted from their previous way of thinking, they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and became lions! This is what I pray for with this pandemic from China! This is the goal of any man or woman that has been appointed to share the good news of Jesus Christ’s redemptive work for His Father. I don’t want to just tell kids or members of our church or folk that read my blogs about how great God is or show folks how to be godly; I hope and pray that they might be transformed into new warriors for Jesus Christ. Totally  trusting God and become disciples of Jesus Christ. That is the goal. 

And it happens when someone meets the true, living Jesus Christ in a personal and private way and receives, through His Holy Spirit, a new mind and is truly born again. Please, please pray that our words and actions might bring people into a passionate desire to meet Jesus in our camp, church, community and nation.

I wonder sometimes if we have become so “soft”, so lazy, and so accustomed to gimmicks, marketing events, social media, sound systems, and planned visitations, that we’ve forgotten the very basics of what is required for a spiritual revolution; The Holy Spirit descending upon men and women that love Jesus, and those same people finding the resolve to say and do what He says—i.e. being radically and completely obedient and sold out to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.  This pandemic has perhaps taken us to a more simplistic, pure and God-honoring way of “preaching”—from the heart, spirit-breathed and covered with prayers.

In my ministerial experience, it has never been the planned events, or the the thermostatically controlled sanctuary that have served as the setting for something totally Spirit led to occur (not that these things could stop the Holy Spirit); but rather it’s happened at a waterfall, at the camp pool, behind a home with some youth on an Easter morning, in the living room of my former home, or after a calamity or a catastrophe, that He moves, stirs, inspires, takes control, and changes lives. God is moving right now through this calamitous pandemic my friends. Are we listening?

There’s nothing wrong with planning and preparing and there is much wrong in neglecting these things! But He moves when and where He wants at the time that it is most appropriate. My task is to be ready—not to demand the setting or timing.

Do you really believe that?  God is going to change the world in the midst of this world-wide pandemic.Friends, Jesus did raise from the dead and paid for our sins.  That’s  good news and we need to live like we believe it….

 


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