A Generous Easter

April 5, 2015

We sometimes refer to the gift of Easter, and when some
folks think of Easter gifts they think of new clothes and chocolate.  And while those might be Easter gifts they
aren’t the gifts we are talking about today. 
And this message really started on Friday because there
couldn’t be a Sunday without a Friday. 
Easter Sunday couldn’t and wouldn’t exist without Good Friday.  Because every gift, at least every gift that
is truly a gift cost somebody something. 
It might be time, it might be money but there is a cost there.  And so before Jesus could be raised from the
dead he had to die, before we can accept the gift of salvation a debt has to be
paid, in order for a sacrifice to be acceptable there has to be a cost to the
person making the sacrifice.  Without a
cost it might be a nice gesture but it wouldn’t be a sacrifice.
And that was my Message two days ago, what Good Friday Cost,
and we looked at what it cost for the Father, the Son, Peter and the People of
Jerusalem. 
But that was Friday and today is Sunday. 
And this is not only Easter Sunday it’s also the first week
of Money Month at Cornerstone.  And that
always makes it a little awkward, so a little background as we go ahead. 
For the past thirteen years Cornerstone has treated
Stewardship differently than we did for the first seven years that we
existed.  For the first seven we treated
money the way most churches do.  We
prepared a budget each year, which actually is probably more responsible than a
lot of churches, but the budget really wasn’t based on reality.  It was more of a wish list than a budget.
And then I would preach on money whenever money became an
issue.  Which unfortunately probably came
across as scolding or begging.   In 2002 the
leadership team decided that wasn’t working and so we moved in a different
direction.  Each year in the month of
April I focus on the theology of giving at Cornerstone and so for three or four
or five weeks, depending on the April and Easter, I preach on money, how we
make it and how we use it.  And then at
the end of April we ask those who make Cornerstone their church home to make a
commitment of what they intend to give weekly for the next 12 months and that
is what we base our budget on.  In a very
real sense the people of Cornerstone determine what type of church they would
like to have. 
Normally when Easter falls in April we take a pass on
stewardship that week, but this year we have Easter on the first Sunday of
April and our Anniversary Service on the second Sunday.  So we will at least introduce the theme for
the next four weeks, and that is “A Generous Church”. 
We good?
Two days before, the world was dark as Pontius Pilate the
Roman Governor, who ruled Palestine at the direction of the emperor had Jesus
Christ the Son of God crucified.  And the
crime of Jesus?  He had displeased the
religious rulers of the day, he had threatened the status quo with his talk of
grace and forgiveness and how people could have a personal relationship with
God.
And when Jesus died on the cross the hopes and dreams of
those who followed him died as well.  For
three years they had followed him and held unto to every word he said, in him
they saw the promise of a better world. 
But on Friday their dreams died with Jesus.
But that was Friday and this is Sunday.  In the scripture that was read for us earlier
we read Mark’s account of what happened early on Sunday morning.  And the scholars tell us that Mark was
writing Peter’s account of what happened. 
If we go back to Friday you may recall that Jesus’ body was
taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb of Joseph at the end of the
day.  And because the end of Friday
signified the beginning of the Sabbath there was no time to take care of the
body of Jesus.  And so now we see three
woman returning to the tomb as soon as was practical to give their final gift
to their friend.    They were there to
wash his body and anoint it with the burial spices that custom dictated.  It is interesting to note that one of the
gospel accounts names some of the spices that were brought, and one of them was
myrrh.  You might recall the first time
we see myrrh mentioned in the gospel accounts was when the Magi presented their
gifts to the new born Christ.  And so it
seems that myrrh was destined to be both the first and last gift given to
Jesus. 
And so resurrection Sunday begins as a day of generosity,
the generosity of service when these woman got up early so they could be at the
tomb as soon as possible to take care of their friend’s remains.  The generosity of those who provided the
spices, we are told there was seventy five pounds in total.  And the generosity that allowed them to be
identified with one who had been declared a heretic and branded a traitor to
Rome. 
And so here they were, only to be greeted not by a tomb
sealed with a stone and guarded by Roman soldiers but by an open tomb with a
messenger from God. And the message?   “You
are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen
from the dead!”
And so on Friday we talked about what that day had cost, but
that was Friday and this is Sunday. 
Let’s go back to the scripture
that we started with two days ago and that was John
3:16
“For God loved the world so much that he
gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish
but have eternal life.   The key
word here is “Gave”.  Jesus was not taken
from the Father, the Son was not demanded of the Father.  The
Father Gave His Son
The bible is clear, we were each created to have a
relationship with our creator.  That was
the plan from the beginning and in the beginning mankind chose to reject that
relationship and that set the pattern
.  And sometimes we struggle with the why of
free will.  Wouldn’t be it be easier for
us if we were unable to sin, unable to choose to do that which was wrong?
It is the double edged sword of
free will, we all want to be able to choose to do as we wish, we just don’t
want to pay the consequences.  In the
case of rejecting God the consequences are plain, eternal separation from the
God we rejected. 
But how do we bridge the gulf
that exists between us and a perfect God? 
We can’t on our own and so the price was paid when God gave his
Son.  And I spoke about this on
Friday.  The Trinity and the nature of
God is and will remain a mystery to us until our eyes are opened on the other
side of eternity.  How can one God exist
as three persons?  How can there be a Son
who has always been?  If you can’t
understand it that’s alright, I’ve quoted Augustine
before who said “If you deny the Trinity, you lose
your soul; if you try to explain the Trinity, you lose your mind.” What
we need to understand is that what God gave was Himself.  The ultimate gift to redeem a people who had
rejected him.   
The next thing we need to
realize is that 2000 years ago The Son
Gave His Life
Sometimes when we think of Good Friday and all that happened
on that day we picture Jesus being dragged from the temple to Pilate and from
Pilate to Herod and back to Pilate again. 
Of Jesus being forced to carry his cross and losing his freedom and his
life at the whim of a fickle governor giving in to the vindictive and selfish
desires of the religious leaders.
But long before Jesus was
crucified and before Jesus was arrested in the garden, and before Judas was
bribed to betray him Jesus told his apostles in John
10:17
“The Father loves me because I sacrifice
my life so I may take it back again.”  Jesus
didn’t say his life would be taken from him, he said he would sacrifice his
life.  A sacrifice is not something that
is taken that is something that is given.
It was Gandhi
who said “The mice which helplessly find themselves
between the cats teeth acquire no merit from their enforced sacrifice.”
But for Jesus it was not an
enforced sacrifice, he was not like a mouse caught by a cat. 
Listen as Jesus continues  John
10:18 “
No one can take my life from me. I
sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want
to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” Did
you catch that?  Jesus said “I sacrifice
it voluntarily.  I lay it down.”  And ultimately he said that he would take it
up again.
Later on, John, one of Jesus’
closest friends, would reiterate this when he wrote to the early Christians 1 John 3:16 We know what real love is because Jesus
gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers
and sisters.   Jesus gave his life
for us. It wasn’t taken it was given. 
And maybe you are
thinking:  But when they came to arrest
him did he really have a choice?  When
they took him to the high priest who sent him to Pilate who turned him over to
be crucified.  How was that his
choice? 
When the
story is told of Jesus’ arrest you might remember that Peter grabbed a sword
and tried to fend off those who came to arrest Jesus, and in doing cut off one
guy’s ear, and we’ve talked about that before. 
That was a mistake, Peter never intended to cut off the guy’s ear, Peter
meant to cut off the guy’s head.  And
Jesus reaches over and picks up the ear and puts it back where it belonged,
which is kind of cool, would have been cooler if Peter had of cut off the guy’s
head and Jesus had of fixed that, just saying.  
But then Jesus tells Peter to put down his sword and he makes this
remarkable statement, Matthew 26:53 (Jesus said) “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once
put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”  This isn’t legions like we have
legions, what Jesus was referring to here was the largest unit in the Roman
army which at that time numbered around 6,000 men.   And so Jesus is saying that at his word, the
Father would send 72,000 of the biggest meanest angels the world had ever seen
and it would be game over. 
Right up to the end Jesus could
have put a stop to what was happening. 
He wasn’t a helpless puppet or pawn. 
He gave his life for us.   
And if
the story had of ended with that, with the Father Giving His Son and the Son
Giving His Life it would have made a good story, but that would have been
it.  Because that was Friday, and this is
Sunday.  You see the cost was paid on
Friday but the gifts were revealed on Sunday. 
Because on Friday Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb and all he had said and
all he had done was buried with him. 
Now
let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier, the woman arrive
at the tomb expecting it to be sealed, but instead it is opened and we pick up
the story in Mark 16:5-6 When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a
white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel
said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was
crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they
laid his body.”
It was at that point that the
gift was revealed, because up to that point the Father had lost his Son and the
Son had lost his life.  The resurrection
is the proof of the gift.  And you might
be asking:  But how does that affect me? 
Well, because of the
resurrection Peter Was Given Forgiveness.  We told the story on Friday, how Peter
Jesus’ BFF had promised just hours before Jesus’ arrest that he would never
deny him that he would die for him.  And
how Jesus had never asked Peter to die for him, only to live for him, but in
the end Peter was unable to do either.  
After Jesus’s arrest Peter had
the opportunity three times to take a stand for Christ, three times he was
asked about his relationship with Jesus and three times he denied that he even
knew his friend.  And with his third
denial Peter turned and looked into the eyes of the one he had just
denied.  And we are told that with the
realization of what he had done Peter was crushed, how could Christ ever
forgive him?  How could he ever
acknowledge a relationship with Jesus ever again?   
But if we go back to the
scripture that had been read earlier we pick it up with the Angel’s words in Mark 16:7 “Now go and tell his disciples, including
Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there,
just as he told you before he died.”   He
didn’t just say “go and tell his disciples” instead he added “including
Peter”.  And when the disciples heard
that the grave was empty it was Peter who was first out of the gate to run to
the tomb to see for himself.
For all of us who have felt at
some time or another that we have blown our Christian witness, that through our
actions or through our words that have denied Christ.  And we wonder how we can ever look into his
eyes again he offers us the gift of forgiveness. 
You see the issue isn’t whether
or not Jesus can forgive us, the issue is whether or not we can forgive
ourselves.  Jesus was telling Peter that
not only did he forgive him he believed in him. 
And that there were greater days ahead.
Jesus was there to help Peter
back to his feet.  Last month I talked
about when Peter saw Jesus walking on the water and wanted to walk on the water
as well.  You know the story, Peter gets
out of the boat and as he starts to walk through the storm toward Jesus he
panics and begins to sink.  And how Jesus
reached out his hand and saved Peter.  Do
you remember that?  And I made the
comment in that message that Jesus took time to save the sinker before he
rebuked the doubter. 
There would come a time, John records
it in his gospel that Jesus would challenge Peter about whether or not he truly
loved him.  And three times Peter affirms
his love for Christ.  But before Jesus
asked Peter to affirm his love for him, he affirms his love for Peter.
And if you feel that you’ve
blown it, that you could never face Jesus again he wants you to know that when
he conquered death he conquered it for you. 
Last Sunday was Palm Sunday and
part of my message was how Jesus wept over Jerusalem.  He wept for those who would reject him, and
reject the truth of his message.  And it
wold appear that there was no future for the people of Jerusalem.  But listen to the promise that Jesus gives to
the Apostles before returning to the Father, Acts
1:8
“But you will receive power when the Holy
Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me
everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the
earth.”
With the crucifixion Jerusalem
may have given up on Jesus but with the resurrection it become very evident
that Jesus hadn’t give up on Jerusalem. 
And so with the resurrection Jerusalem
was Given Hope for the Future
On Friday I said that when
Jesus wept over Jerusalem he was weeping over all those who rejected his
message and his truth.  But he didn’t
give up on Jerusalem and he hasn’t given up on those who reject his message
today.  Peter reminded the church 2000
years ago of that reality when he wrote in 2
Peter 3:9
The Lord isn’t really being slow about
his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He
does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.  
And we don’t have to read very
far into the book of Acts when we see the Holy Spirit empowering the apostles
and we see Peter, Peter who had denied Christ, now preaching and literally
thousands of people in Jerusalem coming to know Christ.  And the message that Peter preached to the
people of Jerusalem was simple.  “God
sent his Son, you killed him, now say you’re sorry.” 
And it was in Jerusalem that
the church was born, and the gift that Christ gave to the world was the gift of
the Church.  And Jesus had said this
about the church in Luke
6:47
I will show
you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then
follows it.  And from out of the
generosity of Easter the church was born and generosity has been the legacy of
the church for 2000 years. 
From the very beginning we see
the early church tending for the “least of these” and they followed the example
of Christ.  Jesus’ brother James remind
the early church in James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of
God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and
refusing to let the world corrupt you.
And they got it.  And since the birth of the church we see
followers of Christ reaching out to widows and orphans, to the sick and the
despised.  History has recorded the
generosity of those who follow the risen Christ who have built hospitals and orphanages
who have ministered to the hungry and the displaced.  And today when there is a disaster it is
still Christian relief agencies funded by Christian churches that are in the
forefront.  And they are simply
responding to the generosity of Easter. 
How will you respond to the
gift of the resurrection?  Maybe like
Peter you need to realize that Christ has not given up on you even if you feel
that you gave up on Christ.  Or maybe you
are like the people of Jerusalem who turned their back on Christ while he was
on the Cross and rejected him but he hadn’t given up on Jerusalem and he hasn’t
given up on you either. 
Forty years ago Bill Gaither wrote
these lyrics 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!