The Lion and the Lamb ~ April 1, 2018 ~ 1 Peter 1:3-5
Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
So, early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb. They found that the stone had been rolled away. Two angels then asked them, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here. He is risen!” Let’s face it. Everybody expected Jesus to still be dead. His body still in the tomb. The women had spices. They went to buy spices at the conclusion of the Sabbath. They headed for the tomb to do what? To anoint a body. They fully expected a body to be there. Why were all the disciples hiding in the upper room? Because they saw that their Lord had been killed. Their Lord was dead and being known as followers of Him, they were afraid that they might be next. Why did Peter and John run to the tomb after Mary Magdalene told them it was empty? ‘Cause they didn’t believe her. They fully expected Jesus’ body to still be there. What do you think the expressions on their faces were like? I’ll tell you what popped into my head as I was reading this Scripture this particular year.
It made me think of this great film that came out in 2016. It was a true story about a young five-year-old boy named Saru. Saru lived with his older brother, his mother, and his younger sister in Candua, India. And they were poor. In order to help the family, Saru and his older brother often would go to the freight trains and steal coal. And they would take the coal and trade it for milk, or for food, or whatever would help the family. One day Saru and his brother went to the train station but he was really tired so while they awaited their opportunity, Saru lied down for a nap. He did not know unfortunately, sadly, his older brother was hit by a train and was killed. He’s fast asleep on this train. The train starts to rumble away and takes off. He’s inside. The rocking of the train lulls him to sleep. After a while he awakes, he can’t get out, train won’t stop, it travels for several days. It ends up in Calcutta, miles and miles away. When he wakes up, discovers himself in Calcutta, he can’t understand the Bengali dialect. They don’t speak the same kind of language. So remember, Saru is five years old. So he can’t explain where he’s from, what happened, the circumstances. Nobody could understand him. He can’t understand them. So he ends up in an orphanage, and eventually he’s adopted by a couple from Australia. Twenty years go by. Twenty years later he’s with some friends at a party and they mention something to him about this thing called Google Earth. And he uses Google Earth to find what he believes is his hometown and he returns. And when you see the real film at the end of the movie, the real film of Saru being reunited with his mother after twenty years… it’s pretty powerful. At that point Saru learns that he had been mispronouncing his own name his whole life. It wasn’t Saru. It was Charlie… no. It wasn’t Saru, it was Sharu, which means lion. That’s the name of the film: Lion. It’s a true story, it’s a wonderful story, great movie. I would suggest a rental, definitely. But the reason I mention it this morning is because of the expression on Sharu’s mother’s face when she sees him – a son she was convinced was dead – suddenly, he is alive.
That’s what I thought of when I thought of Mary Magdalene, and Salome, and Mary the mother of James, and Peter and John, and all the disciples. Their expression must have been similar. “He was dead! We saw His body hanging from the cross! We watched as His body was taken down and taken to Joseph of Aramathea’s family tomb. How could He be alive?! This doesn’t make any sense.” And you know what? On some level, it really doesn’t. It doesn’t make any sense. That’s why Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 18, not everyone gets it. Paul writes: The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. What sticks out to you in that verse? “Those who are headed for destruction,” meaning there are some people who are headed for destruction. Non-believers. You see, after we die…
Well, think about that for a moment. Have you ever stopped to think, “what happens after we die? Does everyone just go to Heaven? No matter what we believe or don’t believe? No matter what we’ve done, we just all get to go to Heaven?” Even rapists? Murderers? Most people say, “well no, Pastor.” Now wait a minute, wait a minute. If rapists and murderers don’t get to go to Heaven, where are they? You see, there is a place of destruction. It’s not very politically correct nowadays to talk about it, but it’s called Hell. And it’s real. And some people are headed there. Like unrepentant rapists and murderers. But actually, it’s even more complicated than that. Most people I know can sit comfortably and say, “Hey, I haven’t killed anybody. I’m not a murderer.” You a murderer, Mike? No. Well…. (flies don’t count).
Jesus said this in Matthew 5: “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder.'” That’s one of the commandments, right? Thou shalt not murder. “If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.” But I say, Jesus says, “if you are angry at someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the heavenly court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.” So Jesus equates murder with being angry with someone, with calling someone a name, with cursing someone, all the same. Angry at someone is the same as murdering. In verse 27 He says, “You’ve heard the commandment that says ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus says, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how different are you from anyone else? Even pagans do that.” And then he drops the bomb, he drops the hammer. What is the litmus test for entrance into heaven? Verse 48: “You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
That’s a little complicated, isn’t it? Anybody here this morning who’s perfect, show of hands? See, believers know that. We know that we are not perfect. We know that we all fall short of the glory of God. We know that we are all sinners. And that’s important, that’s really important. Because if you don’t believe that you’re a sinner, if you believe that, “Oh, I’m basically a good person, and people who get into heaven are just basically good persons, so if I’m basically a good person, then I’m good!” Then yes, the cross makes no sense to you. The idea that nailing someone to a cross helps me in any way is utter foolishness to you. I mean, if you are not ill, if you don’t have a disease, if you are not sick, you don’t look for a cure. If you don’t believe you’re a sinner, you don’t look for forgiveness. Therefore the cross doesn’t make any sense. It’s foolishness. Believers do not think they are better than anyone else. Believers do not think they are better than anyone else. It’s the exact opposite. We understand completely that we are sinners, that we need the cross. We’ve known it since way back in the beginning in the Garden of Eden. That’s right. We knew we needed the cross back in the Garden.
Remember, back in the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve, God gave humans one rule. Right? We can’t even come close to keeping the ten commandments, but he gives them one! It wasn’t, “Don’t eat from the trees.” It was “Don’t eat from ONE particular tree! Just that one!” Which tree was it? The tree of knowledge of good and evil. Now, first instinct is to say, “Why wouldn’t I want to eat from the tree of knowledge of good an evil? Don’t I want to know the difference between good and evil? Isn’t that a good thing?” See, Adam and Eve did not go to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil as an act of self-improvement. They didn’t go to gain knowledge, they really didn’t. They listened to Satan, who was saying, “Go ahead. Go eat from the tree of knowledge of evil. You don’t need God to tell you what’s right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral. You can figure that out for yourself! Go eat!” And so they ate. And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve tried to figure it out for ourselves. How have we done? Slavery. Two world wars. A holocaust. We have a good track record of thinking we can figure it out on our own, don’t we? That’s what going to the tree of knowledge of good and evil was, it was a declaration that I don’t need God to tell me what’s right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral. I can figure it out for myself. Have we figured it out?
Well, Adam and Eve knew right away, as soon as they ate, that something was wrong. It was a mistake. Why? Did they notice that they were naked? No, they’d always been naked. They’d been naked from the beginning. God created the human body, it’s a beautiful creation of his, there’s nothing wrong with the naked human body. They’d always seen each other naked. What was different? Suddenly, they felt ashamed of their nakedness. That’s what was different. They tried to cover their sin with a fig leaf. The best that they could, that’s all they had. but think about it, if you were to go out into the woods and pick the largest leaf that you could find and then try to use it to cover your parts, right, all the parts that your bathing suit covers, it’s pretty hard to do. Not very effective. That’s what happens when we try to cover our own sin. It’s hard to do, and it’s not very effective. So God comes along, and he says, “I will cover their sin,” but he doesn’t use a fig leaf. He uses an animal skin. And they go from looking like the Jolly Green Giant to Fred Flintstone. But there’s a significant difference between a leaf and an animal skin. A leaf can be pulled off a tree and the tree doesn’t die. You cannot take the skin off of an animal and have the animal live. Something has to die to properly cover our sin.
Now, this develops into a Passover. We just celebrated a Passover. In Exodus chapter 12, they’re told to get an animal, a sheep, a lamb or a goat, it must be a male that’s at least one year old and it has to have no blemishes, no defects. It has to be the absolute perfect sheep that you have in your flock. And you’re supposed to sacrifice it. And they’re supposed to take the blood on that very first Passover, they were supposed to take the blood of that lamb and they were supposed to paint on the door jamb of their home. Okay? Because that night, the tenth plague was coming to strike Egypt. Death was coming. And death killed every first born in the land of Egypt except those who had blood from a sacrifice painted on their door frames. On those homes, death passed over. That’s where we get the name: Passover.
Now, this leads to a system of temple sacrifice that goes on for thousands of years. Phil mentioned it in his prayer, that people would bring an animal to the temple, it was sacrificed for their sin, it would cover their sin, next week they’d bring another animal, it went on and on and on and on and on for thousands of years. People understood blood sacrifice was required to cover our sins.
Then one day, John the Baptist is at the Jordan River and he sees Jesus coming toward him. And he says, “Look!” Not “the Christ.” “Look, the Messiah!” “Look, the Rabbi from Nazareth!” “Look, the Lord!” He didn’t say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” What did he say? He said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Fascinating illustration, isn’t it? Fascinating metaphor for him to use. The Lamb of God is offered on the cross and his blood sacrifice covers our sins.
See, to believers it makes perfect sense. We started with animal skins in the Garden of Eden. We had a sheep, a lamb that was slaughtered at Passover, we have years of temple sacrifice. The Lamb of God comes, it makes perfect sense. All the dots get connected. In fact, did you ever notice that on the door jambs that were painted, matches up with the wounds of Christ? Right hand, left hand, and crown of thorns. Jesus is our Passover lamb. He matches.
So, not only have our sins been put to death on the cross (we just connected all those lines, blood sacrifice is needed to cover our sins), but we are given a new life. How do I know that? Because although Jesus was put to death, He didn’t stay dead, right? Everyone thought He was gone forever, just like Sharu. We would never see Him again. But there is nothing that He can’t do. With God, everything is possible. Jesus took our sins upon himself, he nailed them to a cross. None of our sins are strong enough to survive the cross. None. All we have to do is believe. And when we do, because we do believe, when believers stand before God on Judgment Day, he won’t see your faults. He won’t see your failures. He won’t see your missteps or mistakes. He won’t see your slip ups or your lapses in judgment. You know what he will see? Because of your faith in Christ, he will see perfection. And you know what that means? Heaven. That’s how it works. Yes, there are some people headed for destruction. Hell is real. But for those who believe, listen to what Peter says to God’s people living in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, Bithynia, and Hartford, Connecticut: All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is because of his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance – an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.
My prayer this Easter, my friends, is if you are a believer, if you have already confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, my prayer is that you would thank God, not just today, but every Sunday, for the cross. Thank God for the cross. And then show him by how you live all the days in between. If you are a skeptic – and I’m not so foolish to think that some people don’t get dragged to church on Easter and Christmas against their will – if you are a skeptic I pray that you see the logic in my presentation. That you would understand, you need a cross too. It is not foolishness. It is the very power of God. I can prove it to you. After all, the tomb is empty.
As you leave today, after our final song set, we have a gift for you. It’s called “He Is Risen,” it’s a little booklet with some reflections, they’re really short. Some of them are just a few paragraphs. One per family. And I want to challenge specifically today Dads. Husbands. Fathers. See, God says in his word that he has called you to be the spiritual leaders of your home. Unfortunately, too many dads, fathers and husbands have delegated that responsibility to others. I’m going to challenge you: take this and sit down with your family for five minutes, three minutes, two minutes. Read it to them, talk about it. Pray with your family. There’s a little story at the beginning, it’s three pages long, I suggest you read it. It ends like this, and I could not think of a better benediction prayer for us all: This Easter, we rejoice that he is no longer on the cross. He is no longer in the tomb. He is risen! He is alive! The light of the world is still in the world. His light is in me. His light is in you. Shine!