Jesus, Lamb of God

 

Introduction

I think it’s easy to underestimate everything that Jesus has done for us. I’ll go further – no matter where you are in your Christian walk, you and I have already underestimated and continue to underestimate everything the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords has done, is doing, and will do for you and me.

Today we are going to study Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Old Testament

We’ve been walking through the Chronological Bible this year, and we need to recap a little about God addresses sin. The first sin, of course, was in the Garden of Eden, breaking forever the unblemished relationship between man and our God.

God promised the serpent the sin would not go unpunished, in Genesis 3:15,

And I will put enmity
   between you and the woman,
   and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
   and you will strike his heel.

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As for Adam and Eve, whom He loved, God began the sacrificial system when God slew an innocent animal and covered man’s nakedness in Genesis 3:21,

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

Slide3.JPGFor the next several centuries, those who walked with God understood this concept of substitutionary death. Alters were built and sacrifices made by Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But God’s sacrificial system was taken to another level while the Israelites suffered under bondage by the Egyptians. In this first Passover, 4 days prior to their exodus out of Egypt, each Israeli household was to choose a lamb without defect. The lamb was slain, roasted, and eaten on the night of departure.   The lamb’s blood was smeared on lintel and doorpost of each Hebrew home, signifying to the angel of death that death had already occurred in that home. God’s wrath would then “pass over” that home.

Slide4.JPGIn the 40 years of the wilderness, God still had a desire to be close to His people, despite their sin nature. The sacrificial system was expanded, and introduced a high priest and an altar, the holy of holies, and substitutionary sacrifices were made annually on the Day of Atonement.

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The Israelites lived their entire year in their sin, anticipating their Day of Atonement to be free of their sin, living in the light of this promise of redemption.   The sacrificial lamb saved them from their sins.

But as we learned through the books of Kings and Chronicles, the people of Israel continued to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Despite God’s instruction to observe Passover every year, this celebration lapsed. The people God loved would not cleanse themselves regularly to restore their relationship.

God began to lay out the prophecies of a messiah who would rescue them from bondage, none of them so clear as Isaiah 53 when we are told our savior would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.   And in Isaiah 53:7,

He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.

God would send a savior to pay the price for our transgressions. God’s own son would pay the price for our sins. As fully man, Jesus would identify with us, be tempted like us, understand pain like us. As fully God, though, He would be able to pay for the sins of the whole world.   But prophecy also said that when the Lamb of God was sent, He would be rejected by His own people.

God’s people fell into bondage again in the hands of the Babylonians and spent years enslaved and compromising their beliefs. God became silent. He seemingly stopped intervening, instructing or interacting with His people for over 400 years. During this time, the rituals, laws and traditions took on even greater importance to the Jewish people – not because they fully understood their need for a relationship with God, but because it was the thing passed down from generation to generation. It was their defining characteristic. That rigid structure was something tangible they could control, and they used it to create systems, divisions among the people and hierarchies.

The religious texts promised that God would send a deliverer, but unlike when He sent Moses, this savior would set up a kingdom greater than any they had ever known. The scriptures foretold of a Messiah that would save the Jewish people from oppression, and they clung to their understanding of what that meant. Now under control of yet another invader, the Roman empire, the Jewish people longed for the day their king would come. They just didn’t realize their king would look very different from what they expected.

Lamb of God – New Testament

And in our Chronological study, we arrived a few weeks ago in the New Testament, and John the Baptist is baptizing with water at Bethany, and the Jewish leaders accuse John the Baptist of being the Messiah.

John replies in the book of John 1:23,

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

John is quoting from Isaiah 40. And just a few verses later in verse 29,

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

When John recognized Jesus, John announced Him according to prophecy that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises of redemption. John understood that Jesus came to die as a sacrificial substitute, and that Jesus will rise from the dead to demonstrate God’s acceptance of Christ’s death as payment for guilty sinners. But not all prophecy had yet been fulfilled. Isaiah 53 had spelled out exactly how our Messiah must die.

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The Jewish leaders who had become powerful and wealthy based on their legalistic interpretations of Jewish law were horrified by the notion that Jesus was the foretold Messiah. The Jewish leaders wanted a kingdom to rule over the surrounding nations as had been done to them, but Jesus preached a very different kind of life. He encouraged the people to be meek and mild.   He preached that one should love even those who did not follow the commands they had been taught to fear. The more popularity Jesus gained among the people, the more the religious leaders set out to accuse and convict Him through both a Jewish trial and a Roman one – trials meant to execute Jesus and lasted less than a day.

Jesus is King

After the betrayal by Judas, Jesus was arrested in the dark hours of a Friday morning. He was bound and taken to Caiaphas, the high priest, and the ruling members of the Sanhedrin in what was really a preliminary hearing. Matthew 26:59-66 (Chronological Bible, November 2nd, pg 1409) –

Now the chief priests, the elders, and all the council sought false testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none.

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 Remember, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin are legalistic and use the Law to elevate themselves in positions of power. Here they are using the rules from Deuteronomy 17 about how the court system should work, particularly Deuteronomy 17:6-7a –

On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person [who blasphemes] is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people.

The hands of all the people are to be involved in the death of Jesus, but the Sanhedrin are first trying to find 2 people who agree, so they march a line of false witnesses that don’t tell the same story so the Sanhedrin can’t make a case. But then, continuing in Matthew 26,

But at last two false witnesses came forward and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’ And the high priest arose and said to Him, “Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?” But Jesus kept silent. And the high priest answered and said to Him, “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus said to him, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look, now you have heard His blasphemy! What do you think?” They answered and said, “He is deserving of death.”

Based on this brief exchange, Caiaphas (the high priest) and the Sanhedrin find Jesus guilty of blasphemy. The goal of the Sanhedrin, though, was not to bring a religious indictment. The Sanhedrin lacked the power of a death penalty under Roman law, and the Romans weren’t interested in a religious squabble.   So the goal of the Sanhedrin was to bring a political allegation that would anger the Romans.   If Jesus claimed to be king, Caesar would have Jesus executed.   So ironically, the Sanhedrin sought to prove that Jesus claimed to be king so the Romans would get rid of him.

The book of Matthew also makes the case that Jesus is king, but for a very different reason.   Matthew spends 26 chapters making a case that Jesus was the foretold Messiah and fulfilled all the prophecies of the coming kingdom of God so that the injustice of His trial and ultimately His death would be seen as fulfilling scripture for the coming messiah, and how Jesus’ actions before and after the Sanhedrin fulfilled Scripture’s promise of a final, atoning, sacrificial Lamb.

Isaiah 53:7 – He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. Matthew 26:63 – But Jesus kept silent.

Matthew 27: 12 – …He did not answer.

Matthew 27: 14 – And He did not answer…

Jesus is Lamb

Later, that Friday morning as the run was rising, with their charges of blasphemy documented, the Sanhedrin then send Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor. The Roman trial begins, but look how the Sanhedrin twist the charges to inflame the Romans in Luke 23:1-2 –

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”  

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.  

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

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Pilate wants nothing to do with this. Pilate discerns that this is a religious matter and sends Jesus to Herod for interrogation. If Jesus claims to be king of the Jews, well, then Pontius will send him to the king of the Jews, Herod.

It says in Luke 23:8,

When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort.

Slide15.JPGHerod was happy to receive Jesus. Maybe he thought it would be great entertainment and see if Jesus would do some tricks. But Jesus stood there silently. So Herod questions Jesus and then mocks Him and sends Him back to Pilate dressed sarcastically as a king.

Matthew 27: 11-14 –

Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing. Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly. (Chronological Bible, November 3rd, p. 1411)

Pilate was amazed by Jesus’s willingness to accept the charges against Him.

Matthew 27:22-26 –

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. (Chronological Bible, November 3rd, p. 1413)

Though they knew he was innocent, the crowd demanded the blood of Jesus, thus fulfilling scripture.   Jesus was indeed the unblemished Lamb of God. The crowd wanted Barabbas instead to be released to them. Barabbas was known for leading groups of insurrectionists against the Roman government. The crowd chose Barabbas over Jesus. The crowd chose a “messiah” of their own design. The crowd chose one who tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Rome’s power over the true Messiah with the true power to save them.

Jesus is Savior

It’s only mid-morning on Friday, mere hours after Jesus’ arrest, but with the crowd’s decision, Jesus’s trials were over. Jesus was convicted, sentenced to be crucified at Golgotha.

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The scourging of Jesus was brutal. The crucifixion of Jesus was brutal. But yet again, Jesus fulfilled the scripture. Isaiah 53, remember, we are told our savior would bear our griefs, carry our sorrows, be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.

By the middle of Friday afternoon, the brutal crucifixion was nearing its completion.   Jesus would die by asphyxiation, unable to lift his body on the nail through His feet so He could draw His breath.   You may remember the last words of Jesus from John 19:30, “It is finished.”

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Which if you look at the original Greek, Jesus chose a unique final word. Our English translations use “finished” like it was the end of a race, which is true, but doesn’t convey the meaning I believe Jesus intended. Jesus chose an accounting term as His last breath. The word Jesus used was “τελέω teléō. Or two verses earlier, he uses the more commonly known form of the verb Τετέλεσται tetelestai, and the full meaning is that the debt is paid and nothing left is owed.

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It is finished.   Our debt is paid. We are freed.

And Jesus didn’t go out with a last gasp, a weak goodbye. Matthew 27:50 says the final words of Jesus were cried out in a loud voice.   They were the triumphant words of victory, it is finished! Jesus had completed what He had come to do – to be our King, the sacrificial Lamb of God, our savior.

Conclusion

Jesus didn’t just die for a cause He believed in. He wasn’t just a martyr. God raised to life, overcoming death, demonstrating God’s acceptance of the sacrifice of His son. Jesus did not just die. He overcame death, hell and the grave. His earthly story ends with a miracle just as big as the one with which it began.

Matthew 28:1-6 –

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. (Chronological Bible, November 4th, p. 14151416)

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Over the centuries, there has been so much controversy around the question of who put Jesus on the cross. Did the Jews put Jesus on the cross? Saying that the Jews put Jesus on the cross is wrong and has fueled terrible acts of antisemitism over the years. But it is just as incorrect to say that the Romans put Jesus on the cross or even, as some claim, that “we” put Jesus on the cross – all of us for the wrong we do and the sin that separates us from God. None of those statements are accurate. None of those groups sent Jesus to His death.

Jesus put Jesus on the cross. Jesus died for the sole purpose of raising from the dead. He died willingly and sacrificially to save a world He loves who could not save themselves.

And not just the world – distant and unknown. He died for you. And me. His death is intimate and personal. It happened a long time ago in a place you may never visit, but it is personal and it matters. It happened TO Him, but it happened FOR you.

Yes, Jesus is King. Jesus’ death fulfills the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures concerning Messiah.

Yes, Jesus is Lamb of God. Jesus’ death satisfies the requirements for a sacrifice for sin.

Yes, Jesus is Savior. Jesus’ death is a substitutionary sacrifice for sinners. Jesus’ resurrection declares His deity and demonstrates the Father’s acceptance of His work on the cross.

But He is not just any king. Jesus is YOUR king. He is YOUR lamb, and He is YOUR savior.

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To God be the glory.   Amen.

The Keys to Happiness

I. Introduction

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Me, I wanted to fly a jet for the US Navy. Something about being at sea, landing on that aircraft carrier. Of course, if I understand it, they use a system of green lights and red lights to tell you when it’s ok to land. And I’m red/green colorblind. That would have been even more exciting.

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Doctors, lawyers, policemen. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, Business Insider ( https://www.businessinsider.com/american-kids-youtube-star-astronauts-survey-2019-7 ) did a survey of what today’s American kids want to be when they grow up. The number one answer? Youtuber.

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They want to be famous youtubers, be their own star of their own YouTube channel and be famous. Fame will make them happy. They see football sport stars, reality television stars, viral videos and think fame will make them happy.

And before we criticize them too much, we’re all guilty of seeking happiness from something worldly. Money, people, shopping, food, social media, toys. Of course we want to be happy. But these things don’t bring happiness. Even in the bible, Solomon was the richest and most famous king that Israel ever had. Solomon had wealth, fame, wisdom, his own YouTube channel… everything except happiness.

Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times somebody that’s going through difficult times has told me, “God just wants me to be happy.”   The most extreme version I’ve encountered in my life was a friend of my wife, who, 10 years ago desperately wanted a husband. And then she started dated a married man. She said, God told her it was ok because God just wants her to be happy.

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I know that God wants good things for His children, and good things make us happy. But way too often we go to God and tell Him to give us something we want that will make us happy. But that’s not how God tells His children to approach the problem of happiness.

God knows everything. He knows, better than we know, what will make us happy. God wants us to rely on Him, not on our ideas, on how to find happiness. Just ask God and He’ll tell you and me what we need for happiness.

In fact, He already did. And surprise surprise, He wrote down His instructions in the Bible for us to find. Today we are going to study the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

II.  The Beatitudes

The word “beatitude” is a weird word. It’s a kind of Englishized translation of a Latin translation of a Greek word, and it’s not even found in the bible. No wonder I don’t use it in everyday conversation. Matthew, author of our Good News today, wrote in Greek, and word he used was “makarios.” It means “divinely happy and supremely blessed,” or happiness that comes from the divine. Weirdly, the English word that is derived from this is “macro”, sort of like “I summed it all up” or “I’ve got everything.”

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Then one of the earliest bible translations from the original Greek into Latin translated this word into “beatus” which means “happy” or “blessed.”

And so Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, this first portion called The Beatitudes, are literally instructions on how to be happy. And just as we mistakenly believe happiness comes from fame or fortune, the Jews that were listening had their world upside down. They believed that Makarios, divine happiness, was based on material blessing and prosperity provided by God. They were also looking for a Messiah to rescue them from Roman occupation, physical happiness. Jesus turned everything upside down, challenging the people to reconsider their idea of blessed and happy by focusing on God’s desires. Moreover, this state of being blessed isn’t anything man can earn, but the result of a declaration from God.

III. Spiritual Bankruptcy

Matthew 5:3, Jesus begins,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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The word poor in the original Greek is “ptochos” which means having literally nothing, totally broke. It’s a recognition that everything we have – our jobs and our house and our family and the light of the sun and the air we breathe and gravity itself are all gifts from God. The world teaches that you can do it all, have it all, and you deserve it all.   But being poor in spirit means recognizing that we bring nothing into this world and we bring nothing out except the very soul God gives us.

In Isaiah 66:1-2,

“Thus says the LORD, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

What do you think you have that God didn’t give you?

Who do you think you are that God didn’t make?

One of the keys to happiness is learning to stop depending on yourself, and realize God already did everything. Poverty of the spirit is the most important of the beatitudes.   It is how you compare yourself to God.   Do you look at God as a power that can assist you in your goals? Or do you look at God as sovereign ruler of all and how you can assist God in His goals?   To experience true happiness, recognize that God is greater than anything you are, anything you can do, or anything you can imagine.

IV. Comprehension of Sin

The second beatitude, Matthew 5:4,

Blessed are those who mourn,

   for they will be comforted.

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You’re probably thinking I’ve lost it.   The 2nd key to happiness is to be unhappy.

Well, that’s not exactly what this verse means. Certainly there is sorrow in this world, and Revelation says every tear will eventually be wiped away, but remember, the beatitudes are teaching us not to tell God what makes us happy, but to ask God what makes Him happy.

This verse, then, is about spiritual mourning. Maybe we don’t think of God as having emotions – except anger, maybe. And love, for God so loved the world. But God mourns when His people turn away from Him.

Do we mourn for the lost? Do we mourn when God’s will is ridiculed? A lesson I seem to be learning when, as I get older, is that we don’t live forever on this earth. I know, I just found out. But when people die, there’s a great deal of emotion around the loss.   But usually those emotions are for us – we’ve lost someone – or for others – they’ve lost someone.

When somebody dies without accepting Jesus as their savior, God has lost someone. God gives them what they’ve always wanted, a life without God, and God mourns. I think of the story of Jonah I taught earlier this year, especially at the end when Jonah was upset when God didn’t wipe out those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Ninevites . And God taught Jonah that God gave them life and nurtured them and while God agreed that they were terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people, God mourned that He would never have a relationship with them.

Sin separates us from the love of God, paid for only by the shed blood of Christ. And you know God grieved when His son paid that price for us, but today Jesus is resurrected and sits at the right hand of the Father. And we, too, mourn over the sins that separate us from God, but we will be comforted that our sins are washed away so that we have fellowship with our heavenly father in a way we can barely comprehend today.

So the 2nd key to happiness is to mourn over our own sins and failures, the sinfulness of the world, and that God is not given the glory and honor due Him.

V. Humility in Outlook

Then Matthew 5:5, beatitude #3,

Blessed are the meek,

   for they will inherit the earth.

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The Greek word used by Jesus in 5:5 is “πραΰς“ or “praus” which means ‘mild, gentle, humble, kind, forgiving’. It is an attitude toward others of compassion and gentleness. Jesus used this word in Matthew 11:29 to describe himself:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Our daily challenge to meet this beatitude is also illustrated in Philippians 2:5 –

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who … made himself nothing.’

That’s what we are – ‘nothing.’   Apart from God we are nothing.   We depend on him for our physical existence and for our spiritual life. To be ‘meek,’ to be gentle, is to live with an awareness that Christ lives within us. We want no glory for ourselves and we are therefore willing to be nothing in order to provide good for others.

“Meek” does not mean spineless or weak. Jesus, the Lord of Glory, was meek, and yet, He was tougher than nails. Being meek is deliberate, not passive, actively looking to be kind and good to others. Meek is Jesus, Almighty God, becoming man. Meek is Jesus, the King of kings, permitting the Roman soldiers to hammer the iron nails into his hands, and refusing to call down legions of angels because He loves us. The key to happiness is the gentleness of Christ being evident is everything we say and do.

VI. Need for Righteousness

Ready for beatitude #4? Matthew 5:6,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

   for they will be filled.

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To be happy, we hunger and thirst for righteousness. There are two parts, a) hungering and thirsting, and b) righteousness.

It’s not enough to enjoy righteousness. It’s not enough to admire righteousness. To be happy, we hunger for it with a consuming passion. To be happy, we don’t seek happiness. We don’t seek fame or fortune or power or beauty or sexuality or anything else. We must understand the first 3 beatitudes of our spiritual bankruptcy, our sin nature, and letting the meekness of Christ live with us, and hunger for it. We should strive to know how far short we fall and hunger for His righteousness.

Too often, this hunger is misplaced.   We hunger for the righteousness of men.   We hunger to be accepted. We see society preaching at us to accept the immorality of the world in the name of loving our fellow man, and we want to be accepted, so we say yes. And this yearning for acceptance leads to destruction of lives and families because our hunger is for the wrong things.

Or we understand the need for righteousness, but it’s a passing thought. We have our busy lives. Who has time for righteousness when we’re looking for a new job or trying to find that perfect outfit to wear Friday night? And when there is no hunger for God’s righteousness, there’s no righteousness at all.

To be happy and blessed, we hunger and thirst for His righteousness. God knows what will make us happy, better than we know ourselves.   In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

To be happy, hunger for God.

VII. Empathy for Others

The next instruction for happiness is in the next beatitude, Matthew 5:7 –

Blessed are the merciful,

   for they will be shown mercy.

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This is not the same as the earlier beatitude of being meek and gentle toward others. This is a recognition that we live in a fallen world full of sin, in ourselves and in others, and to practice forgiveness.

Because we all sin and stumble in many ways. And when we sin, besides the separation from God, it can cause injury to others.

And when someone injures or insults us, of course there should be justice. They need to pay. They should be punished. But you know what? Not by us.   God promises to make everything right, and leave all vengeance to Him. Our job is to forgive.

When I hear about somebody offering forgiveness in an extraordinary way, it’s powerful. This week I heard it from a story in Dallas, you may have read about the trial. Officer Amber Guyger entered the wrong apartment and says she mistook it for her own.   Botham Jean was sitting on the sofa, watching tv and eating ice cream, when Officer Amber Guyger shot him and killed him, thinking he was a burglar. A jury disagreed and convicted her of murder.

But this next part is where I see Matthew 5:7 in action.

The victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, begged for permission to hug the defendant. He told Officer Guyger, “I forgive you. I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”   Afterwards, shocking many, the judge also hugged her, presented Officer Guyger with a bible, and the 3 of them prayed together.

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Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Because we all sin and stumble in many ways, and we all deserve punishment from God.   But thank our Lord Jesus Christ that He has mercy on us and that we do not bear the punishment for our own sins.   Jesus calls us to share that same forgiveness with everybody that sins against us, the same way He forgive us for our sins. In fact, He puts it this bluntly in Matthew 6:15 –

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

So let it go. You’ll find that the forgiveness you give is the happiness you receive.

VIII. Align with Christ

Matthew 5:8 –

Blessed are the pure in heart,

   for they will see God.

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Who can claim to be pure in heart?   We all know that we are not pure, we have thoughts, attitudes, desires which are not pure. We may hide it from others, but we cannot hide it from ourselves or from God.

And ‘pure’ is an absolute term.   You cannot say a heart is ‘purer’.   Being pure means that it is not defiled, polluted or mixed with impurities.

There are so many impurities that we may think will make us happy, but they don’t. They are empty, dead ends, failures. But true joy and happiness is realizing this world has nothing to offer, and Jesus offers everything.

So, how can we make our hearts pure? It is beyond our ability. It is God who initiates, sanctifies and perfects the heart of man who put his trust in Him. It begins when we realize that we cannot do it on our own. Throughout our life, we go through the process of sanctification that will be perfected when we are glorified in Christ Jesus.

This sanctification is a difficult process. Gold has to go through the furnace to be perfected, to burn off the impurities.   1 Peter 1:6-7 –

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proven genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

So, how can we be pure in heart?   By constantly seeking an active fellowship with God through daily personal time with God in His words and prayer, allowing God to purify us though His Holy Spirit in us.   Philippians 1:6,

Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

IX. Identify with Others

Two more beatitudes to go.   Matthew 5:9,

Blessed are the peacemakers,

   for they will be called children of God.

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Jesus said that to be happy, be a peacemaker. This statement would have shocked the Jews in the crowd. Jews were looking for a military messiah to overthrow the Roman Empire and establish an earthly kingdom. But Jesus supports peace and encourages the peacemakers. Once again, Kingdom of Heaven defies the norm of earthly kingdom, which is established by power and wars.

What’s interesting about peace is that the foundation of peace is the love received from God. But what about our enemies who hate us? Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28 –

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

It sounds counterintuitive, like many things from heaven, but to find happiness, don’t just find peace.   Create peace. Actively love our enemies.

The reward for peacemakers is very unique. “They will be called sons of God.” That would bring me happiness, to be called as one of God’s children.

X. Do What is Right

This last beatitude is the most contradictory of all the beatitudes. How can we be happy when we are going through insult, persecution, suffering, even death for doing what is right? Matthew 5:10 –

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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Jesus very clearly proclaims happiness for those who are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness. Now, two different ways we can be persecuted for “righteousness” –

[1] Gospel righteousness, by which we have ceased to trust in our own performance and depend solely on the righteousness of Christ, is offensive to both the nominal believer and the unbeliever, because people do not like to think that salvation is free. Somehow it must be earned.

Every religion of man tells them they have to, and can, earn their way to heaven. But Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship. And it is not about man trying to earn his way into heaven, but about our incredible loving God paying for our way to heaven. Gospel righteousness is therefore a threat to both human pride and human religion.

Some people think that the Christian’s assurance of salvation is actually ‘self-righteousness’ and therefore accuse believers of either hypocrisy or pride. But it is not self-righteousness that allows me to proclaim that I am saved. It is righteousness in Jesus and the trust in His promises that allow me to proclaim that I am saved because He is Lord.

[2] The practical righteousness or goodness which Christians demonstrate in their lives is threatening to the ungodly; it accuses them and exposes their ungodliness and guilt.   This persecution because of Gospel righteousness is the evident background to several of the New Testament letters, where those who trusted solely in the righteousness of Christ were persecuted by those who wanted to base their relationship to God with their own performance of law and ritual.

We find it difficult to grasp rejoicing in suffering because we have not seen the complete picture. Even among many Christians, there is a growing tendency to focus on earthly blessings.   It is not to say that we should not desire good in this life, but Jesus and His disciples always focused on future hope and glory.

There are parts of the world, where people are being persecuted for Christ. For them, following Christ means suffering, rejection and even death. They are blessed and privileged to share in suffering with Christ.

We may not go through physical persecution or suffering, but we all feel being constantly chased after by the enemy of Christ. When we pursue righteousness, we may find being constantly running or fleeing from the spiritual forces, who are after us to knock us down.

It is not in the suffering or pain, we rejoice, but it is in the hope of God’s glory to be revealed. We Christians rejoice in suffering for righteousness, because we participate in the suffering of Christ, that we bear his name, and that we will be overjoyed when Christ’ glory will be revealed in us. It is our privilege to suffer with Christ.

XI. Conclusion

So what are the keys to happiness?   Don’t tell God what will make you happy. Let God tell you what will make you happy.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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To God be the glory.

Denying Christ

I. Introduction – What Do We Do Under Pressure?
It is easy to be a Christian at church.  We are in our safe place.  We have no triggers.  We are surrounded by brothers and sisters who encourage us.  So, it is easy to stand here and say, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”
But when we are in a less-friendly environment, do we still profess Christ?  There are good, biblical reasons to share our faith; first and foremost is because Christ Himself calls us to do so.  Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”  You can’t make disciples if you don’t tell them about Jesus.  At least, not any method I’ve found.
We share the gospel because God first loved us, and God continues to love us and forgive us despite our many failings, and wants us to share that love and forgiveness to each other and with the world.  It’s our calling.  Why else would we be here?
And that love from the Lord compels us to extend an invitation of eternal life to a lost and dying world, that others may know eternal life and not be sentenced to an eternity of hell because they choose not to belief that Jesus is who he says He is.
But when I am in the world, there are less-flattering words to describe the demonstration of my faith.  Reluctance.  Shyness.  Embarrassment.  I care too much what people think about me, and I don’t want people to think I’m some sort of religious nut.  And there are far more worldly people ready to judge me than there are sympathetic religious nuts like you and me.
When I was a younger Christian, I was not an example of a good Christian.  You couldn’t tell I was Christian by my lifestyle even though I grew up in the Catholic Church and believed in Jesus.  If I had to fill out a questionnaire and check a box about my religion, I was not afraid to fill in the little bubble that said “Christian.”Slide2
When God is calling you, as I believe God was calling me, He challenges your own belief.  If I say I have faith, then God says, well, let’s see if you have faith.  And He puts me on the edge of that faith to let me honestly see that my view of myself can be hypocritical.  I think I am a good person, but I fall short.
So in 1996, I divorced my wife.  It was, as you can imagine, a most difficult time for me.  I still loved my wife, but I divorced her anyway.  I was scared, I was selfish and I leaned on my own understanding on what I thought was best for me.  And I had trouble coming to grips with my belief that I was a good Christian with the truth that I had divorced my wife.
And I hit my knees for the first time in my life.  No more faking it, no more pretending I was better than I was.  I told God I was finally ready to trust in His ways because my ways sucked.  Whereas before I was going to church for the wrong reason, mostly to improve my social life, now I wanted to get to know God better.Slide3.JPG
Where God challenges, God also provides.  During this time, a pastor took me aside and spent several weeks repairing my foundation.  I’m reminded of this passage from Matthew 7:24-27 –
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
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I didn’t even realize my foundation had been built on sand.  Who does, until the floods came?  But I’m on my knees and studying and trying to figure out what it means for my life to be built on Jesus.
But what held me back from living a new life?  My knowledge that I was an awful Christian.  I spent years chasing women and hanging out in bars.  I was divorced.  The only evidence of my faith was some obscure questionnaire somewhere where I had filled in that little bubble that said “Christian.”  I may want to know God better, but I didn’t blame God if He didn’t want to know me.  I was an awful example of a believer.
Two pieces of scripture were key to my development as a Christian.  First was Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God,” and second was the story of Peter denying Christ.  Let’s watch a little movie snippet.  This is from the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”  Jesus has been arrested and taken to Herod in preparation for the Jews to turn Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion.  Peter had told Jesus that no matter what trouble came, Peter would never leave Jesus.
II. Jesus’ Prophecy
The scene is chaotic; when I was young, I had pictured Peter in a safe place when He was asked about Jesus.  It was far from a safe place; Peter’s own life was in danger.
There are many things I learned from this scene.  The first thing I learned was that my failures were not secrets.  It’s not as though the failures in my life were completely unknown to an omniscient God.  Jesus knows all.  He knows exactly who I am, who I was, who I am going to be.
Theresa said something last week that I thought illustrated me perfectly.  I was frozen in my failure.
In the story of Peter’s denial, I found the story of myself.  I was Peter, and my faith was lacking.  Matthew 26:31, Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7 and tells of a future that has not yet happened.
Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Slide6.JPGBut Jesus is not just going to fulfill this scripture, he tells the disciples that they, too, will fulfill this scripture.  The sheep that follow Jesus Christ will abandon him and scatter.
Peter has a lot of pride in his belief in Jesus.  Pride is putting oneself on the throne of God.  God may have said something, but it doesn’t apply to me.  God may have a plan, but I have something even better planned, and God just has to get on board with it.  I am a good Christian man who drank, chased women, and then divorced his wife.  Peter, like me, has a better plan, and tells Jesus that Jesus is wrong.  Verse 33,
Peter answered and said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble.”
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What arrogance to tell Jesus that Peter will never stumble, even though Jesus just prophesied that he would.  Peter knows better than God, just like I knew better than God what was best for me.
How is your pride?  Do you ever tell God what He needs to do?  Do you pray for people to change, for situations to change for your benefit, for good things to happen to you?  Do you do things that God disapproves of, but rationalize it somehow that it’s not *that* bad and God put you in this situation in the first place?
Pride is hard to eliminate.  Every time I think I’m getting a handle on humility, I think, “Wow, I’m getting really good at being humble.  In fact, I’m extraordinary at it.  I should get a medal or something.”  For me, it comes up most often when I compare myself to somebody else. Sometimes it’s skills – I am better at math, so I’m a better person than somebody who isn’t.  Sometimes it’s appearance: I may be overweight, but at least I’m not as overweight as *that* person.
Benjamin Franklin once said,
In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.
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Pride is something we all suffer from.  If we think we do not suffer from pride, then it is possible pride is blinding us to our pride.  Pride is real easy to recognize in others, though, isn’t it?  It’s because when we see pride in somebody else, we’re smugly saying, “*I* don’t suffer from pride like *he* does.”  Like Benjamin Franklin, we are being proud of our humility.
C.S. Lewis has this to say about pride:
According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. Unchastity, anger, grief, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea-bites in comparison; it was through pride that the devil became the devil; pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that- and, therefore know yourself as nothing in comparison- you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see Something that is above you.
Peter’s pride led him to tell Jesus that Peter alone would never betray Christ, even if all the other disciples scattered.
And Jesus response was that, not only were Jesus and Peter going to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah, there was a new prophecy just for Peter.  Matthew 26:34 –
Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”
III. Peter Denies Christ
You trying telling God you know better than Him and see how well that works out for you.  For me, it didn’t.  My sin led me to my knees, but I didn’t feel like my life was good enough to present to Jesus.  The Catholic Church had taught me to feel guilty, and that divorced people couldn’t receive communion.  I was a non-practicing divorced Catholic that chased women and was not allowed to accept Christ.  Where did I go wrong?
Of course when I was given an opportunity to tell people about Jesus, I hedged.  I changed the subject.  I talked about the weather.  I mean, seriously, I was such a bad example of a Christian there was no way I could tell people that Jesus was part of my life.  It would be an embarrassment to both me and to God.  I would never put a fish on my car because I was such a bad example, I didn’t want anybody to know.   I was afraid they’d look at the fish and then they’d look at me, and see right through my hypocrisy.  “You call yourself a Christian and you drive like that?  You are such a hypocrite.”
After the arrest of Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin spit on Jesus.  They called Him names and struck Him in the face.  When they struck him, they taunted Him, saying, “Prophecy to us, Christ!  Who hit you?”
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And Peter was nearby.  Peter was not walking with Christ, but he was walking near Christ.  Peter was in the courtyard.  A woman said, “Aren’t you one of his students?”
Who me?  I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Another woman said, “Yeah, I’m certain I saw the two of you together.”
Um, nope. You’re mistaken.  I’m not one of the religious nutjobs.  I don’t know Jesus.
Others said, “You know, your accent gives you away.  You have a Nazarene accent just like him.  Your accent gives you away.”
And Peter got so frustrated that he cussed and said some sort of swear word, I. Don’t. Know. Him.
And the rooster crowed.
Of course, the prophecy of Jesus was fulfilled.  Of course, Peter denied Christ.  When the going got tough, Peter wanted to save himself.  He had a better plan than God.  It says in the book of Luke that at this point, Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter.
IV. Peter Weeps
Matthew 26:75,
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So he went out and wept bitterly.
Slide14.JPGI think many of us get to a place where we are broken.  When we realize we are not the person we wanted to believe we are and our eyes are opened to just how far we fall short of the glory of God, we’re broken.  Peter wept.
I used to look at Peter and say, “Man, what an idiot.    I can’t believe he’d deny Christ like that.  Doesn’t he know who Jesus is?”
And in my bible study with that pastor back in 1998, I realized I was Peter.  I was the idiot that denied Christ.  Despite telling myself that I was such a good person, I finally realized how far short of the goal I was.  I had decided I knew better than God what was best for me and I dragged around my religion like garbage I was ashamed of, and when it came time for me to choose between obedience and selfishness, between trust and pride, I chose me.  I denied the plan Jesus had for me because I wanted to save myself.  My plan was better than God’s.  And when I finally realized I was Peter, I wept.
No wonder Jesus had no use for me.  I was a terrible Christian.  I was lost.  I was on the outside looking in, and that I’d never be one of the sheep that Christ promised to hold in His hands.
Ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  Christ can’t use you because you’re flawed in so many ways?  I wouldn’t blame Jesus if He never spoke to Peter again, completely disowned him.  Just like I felt Jesus had disowned me because I had failed Him in so many ways.
I remember a story about a tribe with some skin disease, maybe it was leprosy, I couldn’t find the story again, but it was on that USB stick the church handed out, the audio version of the New Testament.  This tribe had lived apart, had a unique dialect, so these missionaries translated the New Testament into their language.  And when they got to the part where the unclean woman reached out to touch the robe of Jesus, they were all on the edge of their seats and they gasped.  And Jesus turned around and said, “who touched my robe?”  The unclean woman came and fell down at the feet of Jesus and confessed.
Then Jesus told her, “Your faith has made you whole, go in peace and be healed.
The tribe broke down and cried.  They identified with the woman as being unclean, and when Jesus turned around and said, “Who touched my robe?” they were sure Jesus would call down fire from the sky and punish the woman.  But Jesus responded in love.  Their disease did not prohibit them from receiving the love of Jesus.
I Repeat, have you ever felt that despair?  That you’re not good enough?  Christ can’t use you because you’re dirty and unclean?
V. Peter is Forgiven
But that’s not what Jesus did for Peter.  Despite Peter’s best efforts at running from Jesus, Jesus still loved Peter.   After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jesus appeared to His disciples and has breakfast with them after fishing.  And rather than shun Peter, Jesus finds Peter and asks, “Do you love me?”
Slide15.JPGJesus doesn’t hold grudges; that’s what our sin nature does.  We hold grudges.  Jesus doesn’t have a sin nature, and He welcomes us in love, despite our failures.  Sometimes I think it’s actually because of our failures.  If we resist His will, He’s not going use us.  He wants us to go with Him willingly, without resistance.  And it’s only when we realize our failures and that Christ loves us unconditionally that we truly begin to understand the character of God.   It doesn’t have anything to do with us.
Theresa talked about prophecy last week, and I though how insightful it was that Jesus knew Peter would deny Him and yet Jesus took Peter to the Garden of Gethsemane anyway.  God knows we are weak.  He loves us anyway, especially if we agree with God that we are weak.  Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 12 when he pleaded for God to remove the thorn from his flesh:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
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I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Despite denying Jesus three times, Jesus loved Peter.  Not because of who Peter is, but because of who Jesus is.  Not because of who I am, but because of who Jesus is.
VI. Conclusion
Once I realized I was Peter and Jesus still loved me, it opened a door to a way of joy and peace for me.  I learned that my dirty life was not too filthy to be a follower of Jesus.  My filth helped me realize that I was indeed powerless to save myself, that thinking I was a good person was not the same thing as being a good person.  I had sinned, but I was in good company.  All have sinned and fallen short.  In fact, that’s the point, nobody is good enough.  But Jesus died for me, not because I was a good person, but because I wasn’t.  Without Jesus, I was destined for the fires of hell no matter how I tried to fool myself that it’ll be ok.  I needed a savior.
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Wherever you are in your spiritual growth, you’re not too bad that Jesus doesn’t want to get to know you.  There is nothing in your life that disqualifies you from a relationship with our loving, heavenly Father.
Despite our failures, or perhaps because of our failures, we just have to confess our sins to the Lord and he forgives and forgets as far as the east is from the west. Despite our failures, we are adopted children of the Creator of the Universe.
I am not ashamed of the gospel.  And now there’s a fish on my car.
To God be the glory.  Amen.