My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, April 25, 2011

"Why All the Fuss About Easter?" - (04/24/11)

(Easter Message)
April 24, 2011

            Two thousand years ago, in a little postage stamp size country in the Middle East, an event occurred that permanently changed the course of our world.  Because of that event, history was split into two parts—Before Christ, and After Christ.  In fact, every time you write a date, you are acknowledging the historical impact of Jesus of Nazareth and using His life as the focal point.  The imprint that Jesus has had on human history is beautifully summed up in a story by Dr. James Allen Francis, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Los Angeles.  It was first given as part of a sermon delivered way back on July 11, 1926 at a national youth convention.  Perhaps you’ve heard it before.  It is entitled, “One Solitary Life.
Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.  He grew up in another obscure village, where He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty, and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.  He never wrote a book.  He never held an office.  He never owned a home.  He never had a family.  He never went to college.  He never put his foot inside a big city.  He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where He was born.  He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness.  He had no credentials but Himself.  He had nothing to do with this world except the naked power of His Divine Manhood.  While still a young man, the tide of public opinion turned against Him.  His friends ran away.  One of them denied Him.  He was turned over to His enemies.  He went through the mockery of a trial.  He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.  His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth while He was dying—and that was his coat.  When he was dead He was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.  Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone and today He is the centerpiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress.  I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.

            People often ask, “But what’s so important about Easter?  What’s all the fuss about?”  Well, it is important because it proved that Jesus was who He claimed to be.  He was God in the flesh, the God-Man, and He came to earth to save us.  In His own words, recorded in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and the only Way to Heaven.  He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  Easter validates the truth of those claims.  The bodily resurrection of Jesus and His subsequent appearance to hundreds of people proves that He was telling the truth.  His resurrection and victory over death vindicates, validates, and verifies everything else He ever said, about any subject.
            Three events occurred in a dramatic succession on that Easter weekend: the trials of Jesus, then the crucifixion of Jesus, and finally the resurrection of Jesus.  Let’s take a look at each of those events and their implications.

The trials of Jesus
            I say “trials” because Jesus actually went through six trials, not just one.  In the hours between approximately 11 PM on Thursday night until about 8 AM on Friday morning, he was brought before…
  • Annas (the former high priest),
  • Caiaphas (the reigning high priest),
  • The Sanhedrin (the religious Supreme Court of the Jews),
  • Pontius Pilatus (the 5th Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea from A.D. 26-36),
  • Herod Antipas, AKA “Herod the Tetrarch” (the Jewish puppet-governor of Galilee),
  • And then back again to Pilate for final sentencing.

            At the end of those six trials, what did they find to accuse Jesus of?  Nothing of any substance!  That’s because He had done nothing wrong—He had committed no sin, or crime of any sort.  They brought in lying witnesses to make up phony charges, but those didn’t stick.  Finally they convicted Him on one count: claiming to be the Son of God.  That’s the sole reason Jesus went to the cross.  They didn’t like that claim.  But then again, people today still don’t like that claim!  It makes people nervous.  Why?  Well, what if He’s right?  What if He’s telling the truth?  In that case, He can no longer be ignored, and dismissed as just another irrelevant religious wacko.
            Everyone who has ever been presented with Jesus has already made some kind of decision about who they think He is.  You either believe He’s a liar, or you believe He’s a lunatic, or you believe He’s who He claimed to be, the Lord of all.  You can’t just ride the fence and say: “I believe he was a good man and a great moral teacher.”  He could not be just a good moral teacher, because a good teacher would not say, “I am God, and I am the only way to Heaven.”  Yet that is exactly what Jesus claimed!  A good, ethical person would not say such a thing, unless it was the truth.  This argument has been widely cited since the nineteenth century.  It was used by the American preacher Mark Hopkins in his book Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity (1846).  Another early use of this approach was by the Scottish preacher, John Duncan, around 1859-60.  He said:
“Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma.  It is inexorable [inescapable].”

            However, British writer and Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis, was probably the best exponent of this argument, which has come to be known as “The Great Trilemma.”  Lewis was an Oxford medieval historian, popular writer, and Christian apologist.  He first popularized this argument in a series of BBC radio talks, later published as the book Mere Christianity.  Here is a famous quote from that book, which beautifully lays out the argument:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.”  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was, and is, God.”

            Jesus claimed to be the Savior of the world.  In John 12:47, He is recorded as saying: “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”  During His earthly ministry He held out a message of hope, of forgiveness of sins, of peace with God, and a home in Heaven.  He came “to save the world.”  But make no mistake, one day He will come back and that is when He will come “to judge the world.”  And woe to any who are not numbered among His friends on that day!
            Jesus allowed himself to be put on trial so there would be no doubt about who He was.  His death, burial, and resurrection shone a great light on His claims and showed them all to be true, and showed that He was indeed the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world, just as He had said.  He had the power and authority to have stopped the process at any moment.  He knew all along that He would be found guilty and nailed to the cross -- but He allowed it to happen.  Why?  Because it was all part of the plan—the redemption plan, to provide a perfect sacrifice for your sins, and mine.

The death of Jesus
            After a night of beatings and mocking, after being deprived of food, water, and sleep, after being crowned with painful thorns pounded into His head, after being dragged from one kangaroo-court to another, at approximately 9 AM on Friday Jesus was crucified, along with two convicted felons.  Now crucifixion is one of the most brutal and torturous death penalties ever devised by man.  The term crucifixion comes from the Latin word, crucifixus, which is the past participle passive form of the verb meaning “to fix to a cross.”  Crucifixion was usually intended to provide a death that was particularly slow, painful, gruesome, humiliating, and public.  In fact, the English word excruciating, comes from the practice of crucifixion.  It literally means “from, or out from crucifying, i.e. as a result of crucifixion.”  In other words, the pain caused by crucifixion has become the standard by which all other pain is measured.
            To give you a brief summary, first the convicted man was stripped completely naked.  Then his arms were stretched out wide against the upper cross member, or transom (patibulum in Latin).  Then huge 5-7 inch iron spikes were driven, not through the hand itself, but either through the two bones in each wrist (radius and ulna), or driven in on an angle, entering in the palm in the crease that delineates the bulky region at the base of the thumb, and exiting in the wrist, passing through the carpal tunnel.  [Show the spike]  Sometimes more than one spike was used.  In either case, as the spikes went through this part of the flesh, they would strike the median nerve causing excruciating pain. The beam was then lifted in place at the top of the upright post (the stipes) and the titulus, the sign board proclaiming the crime of the accused, was nailed in place.  The titulus over Jesus’ head read, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” in three languages.
            Now if you hung this way for any period of time, the muscles around your chest cavity began to be paralyzed.  You could breathe in but you couldn’t breathe out.  Death on a cross would have been a simple matter of suffocation—except the Romans didn’t want to make it that easy.  They would take a person’s knees and bend them a little bit and then nail the feet to the sides of the cross.  So a man would hang there in absolute agony until the pain in his chest felt like he was about to explode—and then he would lift himself up on his nailed feet to grab a breath.  When the pain in his feet grew unbearable, he’d let himself back down again—until the pain in his lungs became unbearable.  Up and down, over and over again, for hours without end.  It was an incredibly torturous way to die, sometimes taking 2 or 3 days.  However, in Jesus’ case they wanted to hurry up the process because of the start of the Jewish Passover.  To hasten the deaths of Jesus and the two criminals, the soldiers eventually came along to break their legs using an iron club called a crurifragium.  This was a technique designed to hasten death by asphyxiation because they could no longer raise themselves up to take the pressure off their diaphragms.  Death would usually come very quickly.
            The Roman soldiers broke the legs of the two criminals, but when they got to Jesus they didn’t need to break His legs, because He had already died.  But just to make sure that He was really dead and not just passed out, the legionnaire drove his lance upward through the fifth interspace between the ribs, through the pericardium and into the heart.  Immediately there came out blood and serum showing that the blood had already started to separate.  We, therefore, have rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that our Lord died, not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.
            That was the immediate physical, forensic cause of death, but why did Jesus have to die?  Because He alone was able to pay for our sins.  Without Him there would be no salvation for us.  An old hymn sums it up: “Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe.  Sin had left a crimson stain; He washed it white as snow.”  You deserved punishment, but Jesus paid the penalty for you.  Only someone who was sin-less could die for someone who is sin-full.  And that’s what we all are— sin-full.  The Bible says: All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.”  It goes on to say: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  I Peter 3:18 puts it this way: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the Just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”

The resurrection of Jesus
            After Jesus died, a small group of His disciples took His body down from the cross and laid Him in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and to seal the door of the burial chamber they set in place a giant round stone, like a millstone.  The Jewish religious leaders who were worried that Jesus’ body might be stolen by His followers asked Pontius Pilate for a detail of Roman guards to be posted in front of the tomb.  They didn’t want Him coming out!  But of course, He did anyway.  And then He walked all around, showing Himself repeatedly to individuals and to groups of people.  The Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 15:5-8 tells us that after the Resurrection… “He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve.  6After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now…  7then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; 8and last of all… He appeared to me also.”  For those forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus, He taught His disciples, ate with them, walked with them, let them put their fingers in the nail prints in His hands and side.  HE WAS ALIVE!
            You’ve all heard this story before.  But it’s important to remember that Easter is not just some memorial to a nice religious teacher who lived 2,000 years ago.  It is our celebration of the fact that Jesus Christ is alive today, and He is still saving sinners and changing lives!  I am living proof, and so are the approximately 1 billion Christians around the world who are celebrating Easter this weekend.
            In Romans 1:4 Paul say that Jesus “…was shown to be the Son of God when He was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.  He is Jesus Christ our Lord!”  That’s why we are here today.  That’s what all the fuss is about!  Easter is the good news about God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who came as a human baby, born into King David’s royal family line, who “…died for our sins according to the Scriptures… was buried, and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”  Can you imagine witnessing His death and then seeing Him walking around Jerusalem three days later?  What an amazing thing!  When Jesus was hanging on the cross, the skeptics and scoffers mocked Him and said, “If you’re really the Son of God, why don’t you just take yourself down from that cross?  Why don’t you just come down and show us that you’re really God?”  But Jesus had something even more spectacular planned.  He said, “I’m going to let you kill Me and bury Me for three days, then I will come back to life to prove that I am what I say I am!”

            So what does all this mean to us today?  In one sense, Jesus Christ is still on trial.  He’s on trial in the heart and mind of every person who has not yet acknowledged Him as the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
            So what is your verdict?  You see, Easter really boils down to only two issues.  One, is Jesus who He claims to be?  Is he God?  Or is He a lunatic or a liar?  And two, if He really is who he claims to be, when are you going to start following what he says to do with your life, starting with placing your faith and trust in Him to save you from you sins?
            Today, you sit in judgment of Jesus Christ.  Just as Pontius Pilate asked, “What shall I do then with Jesus who is called the Christ?” you also must decide whether He was who He said, or not.
            My question to you today: Are you willing to gamble your life that Jesus was wrong, that He was either a demented lunatic, or a liar?

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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