Transcription details: Audio 04 15 2018.mp3
Input sound file: Audio 04 15 2018.mp3
way back at the beginning of the new year, we started talking about how Jesus – Matthew 4:17 – Jesus began to preach saying this one word, repent, this is a command. We are to repent. But there’s a common misunderstanding about what repent means in our culture. Our culture thinks repent means to feel bad about what you’ve done. Our culture thinks that repent means, for example in Lent, in order to show that you’re sorry, you should give up chocolate. Now let’s be honest. Are you a better person without chocolate? There are people who give up coffee for Lent. People are not better people without their coffee. Repent is not about giving up. Repent is not about feeling sorry. The word literally in Greek means to open up your mind and think differently. It is to change your mind, to rethink, to realize a new perspective. And friends, I want to tell you, there’s nothing that will give you more of a change in perspective than to contemplate what it means for us to go through Easter. Romans, Chapter 6 – we’ve talked about this Easter Sunday – that because Jesus died upon the cross, we were there with him, and when Jesus rose from the dead by the glory of the Father – you’ll see that on the right there – you and I, we also, we too might walk in newness of life. Everyone has the opportunity for a new life, a new beginning. For you to go through Easter Sunday another year and for nothing to be different is a tragedy. Every year, when that day comes around, we should begin to rise up and walk in a new way. And in fact, any day can be the day that God would open our eyes and open our minds, and we would see what God wants us to see. Because if you see what God wants you to see, I want to tell you, you will begin to live a new life. Everything will be different when that newness of life rises up inside of you. On Palm Sunday I talked to you about what I found most impressive about Billy Graham. Billy Graham never claimed to be an expert about anything. Billy Graham did not even believe – trust me – that he was a good preacher, that he was a great preacher. But he said, “There’s one thing that I can do that is completely a blessing from God. I can issue an invitation, and people can hear it.” And we watched this little video about his life [inaudible] Bible study, and we were able to listen to lots of different ways that he issued an invitation over the years that he was doing this. And I noticed for the first time, in every single one what Billy Graham said could be boiled down to this: Whatever problem you have, when you we have a relationship with Jesus Christ he can solve whatever challenge you’re going through. You can give it to him because if you have a relationship with him he will help you see the way through. Friends, that invitation comes down to us every single day of the year. The answers that you seek, the solutions that you hope for, the way to live a happier and a better life however you might wish to define that. It is Jesus Christ because he is alive because he is alive within you that can show you the way forward. So whatever it is– now, if you ask my opinion I will share my opinion with you whether you want to or not you’ll hear about all kinds of books and all kinds of ideas and all kinds of other stuff. I may even say, “In the Greek, it says this.” But that the reality that I want to tell you is that you will get a better answer if you have a relationship with Christ and turn to him because he is your Lord. He is your Savior. He is the one that heals the multitudes. He is the one that takes care of his sheep. He is the one that is the source of your light. And so often we can not deceive.
Well, here’s what we do instead. We’ve been going through the commands in Matthew chapter 5 which are all about holiness. They’re all about the rules. And, again and again, Jesus will tell you, “You’ve heard it said of old,” and he would quote a rule and he would look at them and he would say, “This isn’t good enough anymore.” And you know why? Because people would spend all their time to find a way to use the rule to hurt somebody, to use the rule not to do good but to do evil. That’s the way our legal system works. If someone can manipulate the rules they can use the rules to hurt you and it happens every day. And so that tendency for human evil that is in all of us causes the problem of taking what God meant for good and we twist it and we use it to hurt other people and that’s become normal. And Jesus said, “That’s no longer good enough.” Now, you’ve heard it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” You know what that took the place of? “If you hurt me, I will kill everyone in your family.” So it was an improvement but that doesn’t mean that it’s good. And so Jesus took that rule and said, “Here’s the new rule. Here’s the rule–” actually, I’m not ready to go there just yet. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Eye for an eye, if that just keeps going around and around and around eye for an eye will only end up with the whole world blind because the cycle goes around and around and it never stops.” Here’s what Jesus said we should do, “I say you do not resist one who is evil but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Now, I’m not inviting you to go out and get into a fistfight so you can be hit on both cheeks. That would be pretty hard to deal with. The point that Jesus is trying to make is this: it is only mercy that stops the cycle of abuse. Somebody gives you the business. You give it right back. They give it to you. They give it back. It gets up and up. They bring their friends. You bring your friends. And before you know it, nations are at war. The only thing that stops the cycle of evil is mercy. Mercy. I’ll show you this picture. This is one of my favorite cartoons. I should probably have this tattooed on me somewhere. I’m 63 years old, by the way. You did not know me when I was in my 20s. I was the most argumentative guy you would ever have met. I carried around big books to hit people with. And over the years I’ve learned that this does not work. But do you see this guy here? He’s sitting in front of the computer, and his wife calls, “Are you coming to bed?” And he says, “I can’t. This is important.” “What’s important?” “Someone is wrong.” Friends, will he ever get to bed? Whether it’s on the Internet or anywhere else, will he ever be done staring people down, getting in an argument or a fight with him? Will it ever stop? I want to tell you, it will never stop until someone shows mercy. Mercy means letting a person like this have the last word. Mercy can even mean, “I’m not going to talk to you anymore.” That’s certainly a mercy to you. But only mercy stops this cycle. Only mercy. And so now, in this Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew, this chapter about what is holiness, what is righteous, the difference between right and wrong– here’s where Jesus is going. This summarizes everything before. Matthew 5:43: “You’ve heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'” That’s normal, isn’t it? But it’s not good. Verse 44: “But I,” Jesus, Jesus says to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” There are only two places in the New Testament that I have found where Jesus asks you to pray for something specifically. Now, there’s another place as he talks about how to pray, but there’s two places that Jesus says to the disciples, “I want you to pray this,” and this is one of them. Pray for people who persecute you. Friends, it’s not easy, but that’s what Jesus wants. It’s not easy. Jesus goes on to say, why? Why do you pray for those who persecute you? Why do you love your enemies? Verse 45: “So that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For He, your Father in heaven, makes the sun rise on the evil and the good.” That’s a mercy he causes rain to fall on the land of the just and on the unjust. That’s a mercy. Jesus goes on to say in verse 46, “For he loved those who love you. What reward have you?” How special is that? “Don’t even tax collectors”– the most evil people in their day. It is April 15th, isn’t it? “Do not even tax collectors do the same?” Verse 47, “And when you salute,” or if you’re saying hello, when you welcome only “only your brethren, what more are you doing than anybody else? Do not even the Gentiles,” the unspiritual people, the people who don’t care anything about God, “don’t even they do the same?” So here’s the new standard, verse 48. Here’s the new standard. “And you, therefore”– excuse me. I got so excited I [inaudible] my breath out. Verse 48, “You, therefore, must be perfect.” Now, by the way, not perfect the way you would define it. Not perfect the way the dictionary would define it. And not at all perfect the way your parents would define it or the person wanting to criticize you would define it. Those are all human definitions. Here’s how you need to be perfect. You need to be like your heavenly father. If you’re like your heavenly father, that’s perfect. That is enough. You’ll never satisfy the people who want to criticize you, but you can please God. You can be like God. We all have to ask ourselves one very simple question. By what we say, by what we do, is the world a better place or worse? Is the world a darker place? Or do what we say and what we do, does the light of heaven shine brighter? Are we a part of things getting worse and worse? Or are we a part of things getting better and better? An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world dark. Are we a part of light or the dark? If you want to see miracles of transformation, you need to stay out of God’s way. I want to tell you, I wish that criticism could change somebody’s life. Because there is so much criticism in our world today that, if it worked, we would live in a perfect world. But do you think the world’s getting worse? That’s because there’s more and more criticism and not enough mercy. When God is trying to show mercy, sometimes people from the church come along and turn it into cruelty. Stay out of God’s way and let God show mercy to people because God wants to turn them around. And when you criticize when God wants to forgive, when you condemn when God wants to help, you’re getting in God’s way and interfering with what God is trying to do to make the world a better place. You see, we all say it, don’t what goes around comes around. And God works in those consequences but God does not need us when somebody comes around and kicked them, so they go around and round faster. God does not need our criticism to help people live a better life. The Easter Sunday night, on the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors were shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came soon among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Verse 20 when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side, and then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. They realized at another deeper level that he had come back to life. And then the most peculiar thing happened. He gives them four tasks. Four new rules that they should live by. Here’s the first one, peace be with you. When God is working through us, peace is what is happening. Here’s the second one. This will astonish you. As the Father has sent me, now, even so I send you. You and I are the people that carry on what Jesus started to do. Where do we receive our strength to do that? Verse 22. And when he had said this he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It’s not how smart you are or I am. It’s not how strong you are or how strong am I too. It is God and the Holy Spirit flowing through us that is changing the world around us. We are people who cooperate with what God is doing. Receive the Holy Spirit, breathe in and breathe out, and let God work all around you. How’s that going to happen? Here’s number four. This is the most astonishing thing. If you forgive the sins of many, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of many, they are retained. What are we to make of that? I do not wish to apply that someone is going to go to hell because you were not willing to forgive them, but I do want to remind all of us that when we are angry and harmful, it’s kind of a way of saying to someone, “Well, you can just go to hell.” You know that’s a prayer? To be that guy in front of the Internet and be saying, “No, that thing that you think? It’s wrong. And I want to fasten that to you. I want you to feel shame. I want you to feel blame. I want you to know what the fires of hell are like.” Friends, that is not your job. Your job when you go around your neighborhood praying for your family, praying for people that you have fun with, your friends, praying for people you work with, praying for people who live around you. You’re the one who says, “Lord, please forgive them. Oh, Lord, I see that. I know that breaks your heart. Please forgive them. Oh, Lord, that hurts. They hurt me. Please forgive them.” Because the promise here is very simple. If you ask God to forgive them, God hears your prayer. And you strengthen God’s ability to change in another person who you find to be objectionable. You probably also strengthen God’s ability to change you where God finds you objectionable. When you pray, there it is. One of the things you are asked to do is to pray God’s forgiveness down from heaven and into the hearts of other people. Because Lord knows they need to be forgiven and they need to learn how to forgive. Why? Because only mercy stops the cycle. Jesus said if you’re like your heavenly father, that’s perfect. That’s good enough. Well, in the same way, I want to say to you, you can be like Jesus. The next time you are tempted to give somebody a piece of your mind, with a sack of rocks along with it upside their head, remember what Jesus said from the cross, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” They never do know what they do. But people, in ignorance, can do a lot of harm to other people. If you and I can be like Jesus, that’ll be perfect. And John Wesley said that the heart of being Methodist is we’re going on to perfection. We’re not satisfied with how much we’re like Jesus today. We want to go the whole way. “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they do.” That’s a prayer that you and I could be praying, too, if we want to be perfect. [inaudible] that summarizes Matthew 25. “Love your enemies.” Why not? “Pray for those who persecute you.” Why not? It’s the quickest way for them to change. “Pray for them so that you may be children of your father who is in Heaven. You, therefore, need to be perfect.” Why not? Why not be more like Jesus? Why not be more like your heavenly father. Please pray with me. Lord, I thank you that anybody who disagrees with me is just wrong. But I don’t have to make them know they’re wrong. I don’t have to prove that they’re wrong. I don’t have to go to war if someone disagrees with me. And maybe, Lord, I ought to keep my mind open in case they might be partly right. Help me, Lord– help all of us, Lord, to be more like Jesus and to begin by praying prayers of forgiveness for all the people around us who need to change including ourselves. And we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead so that we might live and walk in the newness of life. Amen. Four things you have to do. A charge to [keys?] you have. A God to glorify. Another dying soul to save, yours. But you don’t want to go to Heaven alone. Another dying soul to save and [inaudible]. Let’s stand and sing