Sunday, April 24, 2011

John, Beloved of Jesus -an Easter Message

Good morning, Haney's Chapel, I have good news for you. Jesus is alive! I saw it myself! I have a message to share with you this morning that will change your life, a story about Jesus. Your pastor asked me to come and share my story with you. I know that you’ll all be glad of a break from his preaching.

I was fishing when I met Jesus. My brother James and I had put in our fishing boat and were cleaning our nets. I heard our partner Simon Peter calling to us from out in the lake, telling us to come out and fish. I thought he was nuts, but we went out and caught so many fish that the boat almost sank. It was the catch of a lifetime, but that was nothing compared to the man in the boat with Peter.

He didn’t look like much, really. I’ve seen pictures of him in your Churches looking all handsome and well groomed. He didn’t look like that. He was… swarthier, more… wild in a way. You wouldn’t think anything special about him just to look at him.

But when he spoke, I was awestruck. His voice had power, his words were.. words of life. I can remember what he told us when we got off the boats. “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”

I dropped everything and followed him. You would have, too. He was just that way.

There are so many things I could tell you about him, many stories, but I’ll tell you this one that swells my heart every time I think of it.

We were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths. Jesus had gone to the outer courts of the Temple one morning to teach the people. Some Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. They asked Jesus whether she should be stoned as the law commanded.

I was afraid for Jesus, because if he said yes, then the Romans might arrest him for causing trouble, since the Romans didn’t allow us to stone people. If he said no, then the people would think he feared the Romans more than God. I wondered what he would say.

Like he always did, Jesus chose another option, a better answer. He told the men standing there that the one without sin should cast the first stone.

All of them walked away. I would have. You would have. Jesus was the only one worthy to throw a stone. It was his right to throw it. But, he chose mercy. That was his heart. He didn’t deny sin. He didn’t deny the law. But, he loved mercy and he loved merciful hearts.

She deserved to die, sure, but so do I. So do you. But his last words to her were “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” He loved people, and he hated what sin did to hurt them.

He talked about love all the time, especially that last week. I can remember him over and over again saying that the one who loves him is the one who obeys him.

A new command I give you” He said. “Love one another. You have to love each other just like I’ve loved you. People will know that you really are following me if you love each other.”

He didn’t just talk about love, he lived love. I remember the time when Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you want to do it, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I want to,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.

Jesus was my best friend. He taught me about how to really love people like a brother. What I learned from him was this” Loving other people doesn’t have anything to do with other people. It’s about me and God. If I love God, I’ll love the people he loves.

Have you ever been around someone who knew that he was about to die? When people know it’s coming, they spend their last precious minutes talking about important things. I remember the Passover with Jesus, the night that he was betrayed. He talked about a lot of important things, mostly about love.

He wanted us to remember his teachings and obey them. He said “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” I didn’t think about it until later, but he was telling me that I’m at home obeying his commandments. When I’m not obeying him, I’m like someone who has run away from home.

Jesus told us that he was going away to make a place for us, and that he’d come back again and take us to be with him. It was scary to think of being without Jesus after spending three years of my life with him. He comforted us with a promise . “I will not leave you as orphans;” he said, “I will come to you.”

But that wasn’t his greatest promise. The best was yet to come. He promised us a Counselor, a spirit of truth that would speak the words of Jesus to us. I didn’t understand what it meant when he said it, but he was talking about the Holy Spirit. The Counselor, The Holy Spirit, came to us at Pentecost, after Jesus had gone to the Father. Now my heart, and the hearts of all believers, are the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus walked among men a few at a time, but his Holy Spirit dwells everywhere at once in the hearts of his children.

He prayed for us, that God would watch over us. That prayer helped me through some hard times. I thought about it often when I was exiled on the Isle of Patmos. I thought about it when Peter was crucified. God has removed the sting and fear of death. He has brought meaning to death. I’m ready for it when it comes.

Jesus prayed for you, too. The prayer meant so much to me that I wrote it down in my Gospel that I wrote to the Churches. I want to read it to you.

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Unity. Love. Remember this, Haney’s Chapel. When Jesus prayed for you, he didn’t pray for better music, or a bigger building. He didn’t pray for more activities. He didn’t pray for good preaching. Maybe he should have… He prayed for unity and love. Count yourself rich when you are rich in unity and love. First Methodist has a daycare, but Jesus didn’t pray for that. First Baptist has a bus, but Jesus didn’t pray for that. Unity and love. Hold onto those things with all your might, because they are dear to the heart of Jesus. That was his prayer for you on the night he went to die.

I’ll never forget the arrest in the garden. Jesus had been praying, and the traitor Judas brought some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They told him that they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, and Jesus said “I AM”. They fell backwards at the power of the name. He spoke it to Moses through the burning bush, and it spoke it in the garden that night. It was then that I understood, he’d had his eye on the cross the whole time.

He didn’t go with them because he had to go. He could have wiped them out with just a thought. In fact, he could have stopped willing them to exist, and they would have disappeared. His divine will holds all of creation in existence, and he kept them alive even as they carried him off to die.

He had some sham trials, none of them done according to the law. No one could find anything that he had done wrong, but finally they accused him of blasphemy for telling them the truth. They took him to Pilate to be executed, but Pilate found him innocent. Pilate would have released him, but God’s will was for Jesus to die. For me. For you.

You see, it was the Passover season when Jesus died. We remember the blood of the lamb that saved us from death. Jesus is the lamb of God, the passover lamb, and his blood saves us from sin and death. Rivers of blood of goats and rams flowed across the altar at the Temple, and yet the law was never fulfilled. Jesus did it once for all of us, and his blood was spilled one time to set all of us free.

Jesus carried his cross up to the hill of the Skull to be crucified. It’s a long and painful story, but you can read it in Mark and Matthew’s Gospels, or the Gospel written by Peter’s disciple -the historian Luke.

I brought his mother Mary to the cross. He gave her into my care. What an honor it was for him to trust me with that. I hope that I can always do my best for the people that he loves and places in my care. I hope that you will, too.

I’ve told you this story so that I can tell you the ending. Joseph of Arimathea took him down from the cross just before sunset when the Sabbath began, and buried him in his own tomb. The religious leaders were suspicious and had guards posted to make sure that none of us bothered the tomb. If they had known how scattered and confused we were, they probably wouldn’t have bothered. His death was hard for all of us. We didn’t think it would really happen.

After the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene and some of the other women went to the tomb. They were going to ask permission to finish his burial preparations. Joseph had been in a hurry on Friday and wasn’t able to put on enough wrappings and salts. She came running to Peter and me and told us that the tomb was open. She thought that the Romans or the religious leaders had moved his body.

Both of us ran to the tomb. I got there just ahead of Peter and looked inside. I saw his burial wrappings lying on the floor, but I didn’t go inside. I didn’t know what it meant. Peter was always a bit bolder than the rest of us, he ran inside and found the burial cloth folded up on the table. Who would steal a body and fold up the cloth? It was like a bed that was made in the morning when person wakes up. I went in after Peter and looked around. It was hard to believe, but Jesus was gone. Peter and I went back home, and we talked about it the whole way back, but we couldn’t figure out who would have done it.

Mary, bless her, came running along later and told us that she had seen Jesus. Her story was strange, but then all of this was strange. She had seen an angel and spoke to Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him at first. Mary said that he looked different somehow, but couldn’t explain it, but she knew his voice. When she said that I thought of what he said about being a good shepherd, and that his sheep know his voice.

Do you know his voice? If he spoke to you, would you know it was him? Are you his sheep? Or are you just hanging with the flock?

I knew that something great was happening, but I didn’t know what. Some of the others didn’t know whether to believe Mary, but then Monday evening it happened. We were hiding for fear of being arrested, and he came to us. The Lord was risen! Mary knew it on Sunday, perhaps her faith was stronger, but now all of us knew it. We could all have celebrated the first Easter if we had placed enough faith in him, but Mary celebrated it alone.

He sent us out, and breathed the Holy Spirit on us. I saw him again a few times before he went up to heaven. He wanted to encourage us, to empower us to go. That’s why I’m here. He sent me to tell you this story, and the Good News. Your sins were placed on him at the cross. Your death was on him in the grave. Your eternal life begins when you accept the risen Lord. Listen to his voice, and follow him. He is risen, Hallelujah!

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