Rejoice! The Son of Man Was Lifted Up (John 3:14-21)

Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent (3/15/15)

Traditionally the 4th Sunday in Lent has been called “Rejoice Sunday.” In the middle of the season of Lent we take this Sunday to remember that even as we sorrow over our sin, we can rejoice because Jesus came!

Text: John 3:14-21

Theme: Rejoice! The Son of Man Was Lifted Up

When is the last time you thanked God for being a Christian in America?

The headlines we’ve see over the last few months about what’s happening in Iraq and Syria give us a good opportunity to thank God that none of us have to worry about literally losing our heads for showing up here today. We American Christians have a lot to be thankful for in our lack of physical persecution.

Christians have been persecuted since Christianity began. Jesus promised that if they persecuted him, they would persecute his followers. According to church tradition, all of Jesus’ original disciples but one were killed for their faith. But in the history of the persecution of the Christian Church, there is one ten year period that earned the inauspicious title, “The Great Persecution”.

It began on February 23, 303 AD. Faced with mounting pressure from without and within to return Rome to its traditional values and religion the Roman emperor Diocletian set the bull’s-eye on the Christians.

Churches were burned to the ground. All Christian services were banned. All across the Roman Empire those who professed to be Christians were told to show up and hand over their Bible’s to the Romans so that every Bible in Rome could be burned. Christians in high places lost their jobs. Christians with homes found themselves homeless. The clergy were thrown into jail.

One year later, in 304, the persecution escalated. Rome decided that every Christian had to make a public sacrifice to the Roman gods – and if you didn’t you would be killed.

And so Christians died. Countless Christians refused to turn their backs on Jesus and died because of it. Whole communities of Christians were wiped from the face of the earth in what has become known as “the era of the martyrs.”

And then in February of 313 a Roman named Constantine took control of Rome. Supposedly, he had a dream in which his destiny was tied to Christianity, so he signed into law the Edict of Milan which formally ended “The Great Persecution.” And just ten years later, Constantine would make Christianity the official religion of Rome.

And then an interesting thing happened. Closet Christians began to come out of the woodworks. Christians who had hidden their faith for a decade, suddenly started professing Christ again. Christians who had caved to the pressure and pretended to worship Roman gods, started worshiping the true God again. And from this sprang one of the first post-persecution problems in the church.

You see, those who had stuck with Christ (displaying strong faith) – those who had lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters because they refused to turn their backs on Christ – they didn’t look too kindly on those weak Christians who had turned their backs on Christ to save their own skin. They didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

So some teaching, some healing had to happen.

Those Christians who had faced persecution and demonstrated incredibly strong faith needed to be reminded of an incredibly important truth. It is not the strength of our faith that saves us. It is the object of our faith that saves us – a lesson Jesus teaches very powerfully and clearly in John chapter 3. Continue reading

Consumed with Zeal for God (John 2:13-22)

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (3/8/15)

Text: John 2:13-22

Theme: Consumed with Zeal for God

A little word association: What picture flashes through your mind when I say… Jesus?

Maybe it is that picture you saw hanging in a church basement somewhere – that picture of Jesus sitting on top of a hill with little kids all around and one lucky kid on his lap. Maybe the image you see is the kind, welcoming, calming Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulder. Maybe you picture the cross and your Savior on that cross. Or maybe you picture an empty tomb.

Whatever image you thought of when I first said the name Jesus, I’m willing to bet none of you pictured the Jesus we read about in John 2:13-22…

Imagine, if you can, the rage, the wrath, and the violence it would take for one man to drive away a small herd of animals and dozens of people who didn’t want to be moved. Jesus didn’t walk into the temple and say, “Please guys, can you get out of here?” He made a whip and started screaming, and yelling, and beating.

It’s not a side of Jesus we are used to seeing. Today we see Jesus red-faced in wrath, spittle flying from his mouth as he screams on the top of his lungs, a whip cracking in his hand over the heads of, and on the backs of men and beast as he drives them from the Temple courts. Today we see a Jesus consumed with zeal for his Father.

And it’s not a side of Jesus we are used to seeing… but can you blame him? Continue reading

It Is Good That One Man Died For the People (John 18:12-16)

Sermon for Midweek Lent 2 (3/4/15)

Text: John 18:12-16

Theme: It Is Good That One Man Died for the People

            How many of you are familiar with the movie Red Dawn? I’m talking about the 1984 classic in which Patrick Swayze leads a group of teenagers in guerrilla warfare against the Russians who have invaded the United States. It’s an entertaining and suspenseful movie as Patrick and his gang of teenagers band together in the Rocky Mountains and fight the evil Russians.

That movie is the closest I have ever come to experiencing what it must have been like to be an everyday Jew at the time of Jesus – at least as far as experiencing what Roman rule must have been like.

As long as any of us have been alive (and long before that), America has been free. American’s haven’t experienced enemy occupation since we did it to ourselves in the Civil War. So it is hard for us to imagine all of the emotions and feelings everyday Jews would have had toward the Romans. It’s hard for us to imagine what it would have been like to live in a politically charged atmosphere like Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ arrest.

The Roman Empire was in the midst of the Pax Romana, a 200 year period of relative peace and stability in the Roman world. This was an unprecedented span in the history of the world. 200 years without a major war breaking out. 200 years of peace that the 20/20 hindsight of history reveals as God orchestrated, so that his fledgling New Testament Church could grow.

But just because there was peace doesn’t mean that things were always peaceful. You see, there’s just this thing about conquests that has been proven true over the history of the world – people, nations don’t like being conquered. They don’t like being occupied. No matter how far the conquering nation goes to keep peace, that doesn’t mean it’s always peaceful. Continue reading

Jesus – The Buyer of Souls (Mark 8:31-38)

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent (3/1/15)

Text: Mark 8:31-38

Theme: Jesus – the Buyer of Souls

The Devil went down to Georgia, he was lookin’ for a soul to steal. He was in a bind ‘cause he was way behind, he was willin’ to make a deal. He came across this young man sawin’ on a fiddle and playin’ it hot. And the Devil jumped up on a hickory stump and said, “Boy, let me tell you what. “I guess you didn’t know it, but I’m a fiddle player too. And if you’d care to take a dare I’ll make a bet with you. Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy, but give the Devil his due. I’ll bet a fiddle of gold against your soul ‘cause I think I’m better than you.”

– Charlie Daniels Band

Making a deal with the devil for your soul – it’s a popular cultural image. The characters, situations, and outcomes differ, but the general story is the same, you get some earthly gift or treasure, the Devil gets your soul. It makes for good stories, good movies, good fiddle proficiency proving songs. And it would just be good entertainment if it weren’t so stinkin’ true.

This world is full of people making very real deals with the Devil for their souls. Exchanging temporary earthly gifts or treasures for their eternal souls. Unfortunately, all too often (unlike the stories) they are not even aware that it is happening.

In our Gospel for today from Mark 8 we see another one of those moments that seemed to happened so often in the life of Peter, a moment when he takes his foot out of his mouth just long enough to stick the other one in. Pet has the nerve to take Jesus aside and rebuke Jesus. Think about that! Think about the nerve it would take to say, “No, no, Jesus. You have it all wrong. Let me tell you how it really should be.”

Jesus makes clear in his response to Peter that what we see Peter doing here is more than just a gaff, more than just a slip-up. Peter was trying to make a very real and very dangerous deal with the Devil. Continue reading