Thursday, April 09, 2015

Easter Sermon Notes- What Kind of Witness?

John 20:1-31
What Kind of Witness?
Easter Sunday
Lynchburg, Virginia

         Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. We rejoice in this day above all others for in it, the Lord gained the victory over sin and death. We rise with Him on this day, having had our sins nailed to the cross and being raised and justified in the Resurrection of our Lord.
         We know these things to be true for we have read them in the Word of God and have received in ourselves the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
         But it is not simply a subjective knowledge that we possess. We have made a connection to God and we are sure of this but our certainty is not from ourselves. We have put our faith in the authority and the experience of others.
         Granted, we could not even do that if the Lord had not freely given us His Spirit whereby we see and hear the things of God. It is true that these things are spiritually discerned. But we sometimes make our knowledge too difficult to obtain. If we cannot fully realize the truth in our own minds by the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then we simply will not be convinced.
         But there is a simpler and more reliable way than trying to figure out the subtle movements of the Spirit in our own hearts. The way that God has given us to know is through witnesses, what the Bible calls martyrs. Martyrs are simply those who witness for the faith. That word has come to mean those who die in their belief and testimony to the truth of Christ. This is fine but originally the word simply meant those who witness the truth.
         This morning I want to look at several Bible characters to see how they reacted to Jesus. How did they exhibit their faith in Him? What was their response? In doing so, it is helpful for us to identify with them. We, too, are called to be witnesses. We are called to testify of the glory of God in Christ. We are called to testify about God’s story and His plan for His kingdom.
         So, which witness are you? What kind of faith do you exhibit as you embrace Christ crucified and Christ resurrected?
Will we stake our lives and faith on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ or will we make peace with Christ’s enemies, refusing to upset them, afraid of their persecution, cowed by their seeming authority, even refusing to save them by proclamation of the truth?
         We must choose to be bold witnesses of the truth of Jesus. We do this foremost in recognizing that He is indeed Lord, that He died because men are sinners, that He was innocent of any crimes and thus the Father vindicated Him in His death and raised Him from the dead.
Furthermore, we embrace the truth that He did this not only for us but for all His people everywhere, whoever will hear and submit themselves to the Lord Jesus. This is good news.
         Let us look at a number of witnesses to Jesus’s death and Resurrection and see how they responded to Him. I understand this is somewhat unfair. No one can believe in Jesus without first receiving His Spirit. The Holy Spirit was poured out in power at Pentecost and that is the occasion for strong belief in the power of the living Jesus.
         But we can relate to various witnesses and the way they respond to Jesus. Some of them had faith and some did not. We who have the Spirit have reason to respond in great faith.

Before the Resurrection
1. The unbelieving thief on the cross
         Luke 23:39And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
         Do you doubt Jesus’s power? His ability to save?
2. The believing thief on the cross
Luke 23: 40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?  41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.  42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
This man was truly a believer, perhaps the first real believer. In the face of death, in the face of the death of Jesus, he did not doubt that Jesus was still receiving a kingdom. He was the first one to get it that Jesus was both going to die and was advancing a kingdom. He either believed that Jesus would somehow escape this predicament and reign as King or that He would rise from the dead. If so, he was the first one to positively believe this to be true.
How is your faith compared to this? When you look at Jesus, is your faith kindled to believe beyond your own present desperate circumstance? Do you believe Jesus cares about your situation and will remember you? Are you willing to ask? Do you trust Him to be as kind as He is?
Two thieves, one on his right, the other on his left. One believed and one was unbelieving. One was stuck on the cross, dead in his sins, the other was raised to life with Jesus. The thief on the cross is an example of great faith. Look beyond the circumstances and see Jesus for who He is, and believe that He is the rewarder of those that seek Him and put their trust in Him.

3. The centurion who witnessed the death of Jesus.
         Luke 23:44   And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour.  45 And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst.  46 And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.  47 Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man.
         Here is another man of faith. Not only that, He is Gentile enemy who believes in Jesus and is turned into a friend. It is amazing that a man who was just persecuting the Lord, now repents to give God the glory in the death of Jesus.
         Have you seen God do marvels? Even in something so horrible as death? Is your response to give God the glory? When you are opposed to Jesus in your actions, can you quickly be humbled and submit yourself to Him?

4. All the people and the women who watched
         Luke 23:48 And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned.  49 And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.
         These people seem to go away in deep regret. We were wrong. We cast insults at Him but He really was a righteous man. God really was pleased with Him. But there is nothing we can do now. He is dead on the cross. Our hopes of forgiveness and reconciliation are dashed. He was good man but He has failed and we have failed Him.
         When you look at Jesus, do you have deep regret that you do not measure up to Him? Is this sense of failure debilitating to you? Or, can you look beyond the cross and your sins that nailed Him to it and see, with Jesus, the joy of Resurrection? Does the cross  bring you hope of forgiveness, release from guilt and shame, joy at the freedom of forgiven sin?
Do not get stuck lamenting your sins and failures. That won’t do. The cross and Resurrection mean forgiveness and life. No time for smiting the breast of regret.

5. The women at the cross
         Mary, the mother of Jesus, Salome, Mary, the wife of Cleopas and mother of James and Joses
         These were close disciples of Jesus, who both watched Him die and rushed to the tomb when He was buried. They loved Jesus greatly but their minds and hearts were not open to hope beyond the grave.
         Have you been close to Jesus as you served Him only to find yourself far away, looking on a distance? What is the reason for that distance? It is present troubles? Is it a sense of your own unworthiness to approach Jesus? Is it unbelief that He will receive you? Or deal with your present trouble? Is it disappointment in Him, that He has chosen this course of suffering and death that has caused separation? Do you believe in His wise providence and counsel and the truth that there is life after death and life after life after death? Does this truth give you hope to approach Jesus, not only in His sufferings on the cross but in His glorification in Resurrection? Do not tarry there at a distance gazing at Jesus. Come close. Believe. He will receive you.

6. Pontias Pilate
         Washed his hands of the blood of Jesus. He could not wash away his guilt so easily. He was guilty. He was twice guilty because, like the Pharisees, he seemed to believe that Jesus was who He said He was. He did not want to kill Jesus. But he was afraid of the mob. He was afraid of losing his position. He was afraid of Caesar.
         We sometimes make Pilate out to be a monster but we have our own political monsters, refusing to support Jesus because the cost is too high. We, ourselves can identify with this truth. We distance ourselves from Jesus because the cost of knowing Him and serving Him is to be committed to death on the cross for sinners and Resurrection from the dead. Two truths that seem to fly in the face of earthly wisdom. But there they are. Will you embrace the cross? Will you bet your life and your afterlife on the Resurrection? Or, will you side with those who find these truths utterly unreasonable? The cost of serving Jesus is death. The reward is life. Pontias knew half of this. We know the rest.

7. Mary Magdalene
         From whom seven devils were cast.
Mark 16:9   Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
         Waited by cross with other women, even after the men folk had scattered as it is written
         Matt. 26:31   Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
She loved much because she was forgiven much. Mary had seven demons cast from her. Her hope was lost and therefore she could not see. And yet she still remained. She waited on the Lord, even in death, even in hopelessness. Mary Magdalene was a faithful witness and the Lord repaid her, visiting her first among all the disciples.
Mary Magdalene is the first of the disciples to see the empty tomb. From her reaction we realize that she had not come to the tomb in anticipation but rather in the despair and hopelessness. She wanted to see the dead body of Jesus not the living Jesus. She assumes that someone has taken away the body. Because she could only imagine the dead Jesus, she could not see the live Jesus.
But she was a devoted and faithful disciple. She loved Jesus and was devoted to Him in life and death, as were the other women, the three Marys and Salome.
John 20:11   But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,  12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.  13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.  14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. 
15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. 
16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.  17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. 18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
         This happened after Peter and John had arrived at the tomb and then went back home. They did not look for the Lord but neither did they wait. Mary waited, weeping and the Lord rewarded her. She did not immediately recognize the Lord. He was different and yet the same. But when she expected a dead Jesus she was not prepared to see a live Jesus. Your expectations have a great deal to do with what you see.
When she returns with this good report the disciples do not believe her. John could have supported her, since he was presumably now a believer but his Thunder had failed him and he was unconvincing.

8. Peter- runs to the tomb but does not believe
9. John- runs to the tomb and believes but is not a powerful witness.
10. Thomas- a doubter, a skeptic, a scientist.
Thomas refused to believe until he had touched the Lord. He considered this a virtue. He was a skeptic. Hard to convince. Sort of a scientist at heart. But the Lord upbraids him for his slowness of belief. Jesus was kind to him and showed up again for Thomas to see and touch him and believe. But you can no longer be saved if you are such a doubting Thomas. Jesus is not going to show up and let you touch his hands and side. Such a Thomas will be damned. All men are required to believe the testimony of the Scriptures and the witnesses to the faith, those who have believed without seeing the Lord. In order to see this way, you have to repent of your virtues.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:  31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.
Luke 24:45 Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures,  46 And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: 47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 And ye are witnesses of these things. 49 And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.

What Kind of Witness are You?

         Jesus has both died and risen. We are called to believe both and to tell about it.

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