Pastor Craig Carter
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Not only is today Easter, it also marks the end of our current sermon series. Today we’re going to conclude our Sacred 4-Letter Words series by looking at a word that encompasses all others – LIFE.
It goes without saying that we must be alive to live as God’s people, but this sacred 4-letter word means a whole lot more than simply having a pulse.
Jesus once stated His divinely-appointed mission to our planet in this way: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b NIV)
Christ seems to be saying that there is a difference between living and life-ing.
That’s the premise of the best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. Published in 2002, it has sold more than 50 million copies in 70 different languages.
The premise of the book is that you and I will never find the meaning of life, a quest we’re all on, apart from God and His Word, since He’s the One who made us. So the most important question for each of us to answer is: What on earth am I here for?
Using Rick Warren’s language, Jesus came to model a purpose driven life and teach others how to live it.
The disciples received their final exam following Christ’s death on Good Friday. Jesus reviewed the results of the test with His followers on the first Easter and used that occasion and other resurrection appearances to reinforce the lessons to be learned.
In John’s account of those fateful days, Jesus helped His disciples answer what Rick Warren claims are five critical questions that enable us to determine the purpose and meaning of life…
1) What will be the CENTER of my life?
Jesus had taught that our ultimate purpose is to know and love God through worship. But following Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, His followers forgot and even abandoned this reason for being. Rather than loving God by giving Christ their undivided loyalty and attention, they betrayed, denied, and deserted Him. Their actions were nothing resembling worship!
Early on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene and some other women went to Jesus’ tomb. There they found the stone in front of the entrance rolled away and the body missing.
Mary was inconsolable when Jesus suddenly appeared. For some reason, she didn’t recognize Him ‒ probably because she didn’t expect to see Him.
He spoke to her and asked, “Who is it you are looking for?” (John 20:15b NIV)
Thinking the man was a gardener, she replied, “Duh, who do you think? But if you know where his body is, please tell me.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” (John 20:16a NIV)
All it took was the sound of His voice speaking her name and she fell at His feet and fulfilled her divinely-ordained purpose. She now realized that she was planned for God’s pleasure through worship.
We all have to decide who we are going to live for and what we are going to build our lives around. The Bible makes it clear that while a lot of persons and things may vie for our attention, no one or no thing is worthy of our worship other than God.
Whoever or whatever occupies center-stage in our lives becomes our god ‒ sport, hobby, having fun, making lots of money, career, family, church. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but they don’t merit our absolute devotion. They are planned for our pleasure, not us for theirs.
Here’s an easy test to determine who or what is at the center of your life: What occupies your thoughts? Who or what do you think about the most? If you’re constantly thinking about your job, it’s become your god. If you’re always thinking about how to make more money, it’s your god. If you’re worried about all sorts of stuff, you aren’t truly worshiping God.
Jesus calls each of us by name … Have you heard Him?
When we respond in faith and obedience, we put Christ at the center of our lives. When we continue to worship Him in spirit and in truth, we keep Him at the center … and nothing pleases God more than that.
2) What will be the COMMUNITY of my life?
After speaking Mary’s name, the next thing Jesus said was, “Go find [the others]…” (John 20:17 NLT) She went and rounded up Christ’s followers and Jesus found them all together later that evening.
As I’ve said many times before, life is all about relationships – with God and with others. So while we are made to be loved by God and to love Him back through worship, we are also formed for God’s family through fellowship with other believers.
Mary and the other disciples had to be reminded that they were not to live in isolation. You and I cannot navigate our way successfully through this world on our own. We need each other and that’s what the church is all about – you belonging to me and me belonging to you and all of us belonging to one another.
So what’s the community of your life? Where do you have a sense of belonging? On Easter most of us get together with our family to celebrate. If you’re a member of this congregation, it’ll be your second family get-together because you’ve already celebrated with your church family.
3) What will be the CHARACTER of my life?
The Bible makes it clear that God is far more interested in who we are than what we do. Character aspects always trump career accomplishments. That being said, our outward actions oftentimes reveal inward attributes.
Just as He had done previously, following His resurrection Christ continued to remind His disciples to look, act, and talk like Him.
He told them to exhibit peace (i.e. “Peace be with you…” John 20:19 NLT).
He reminded them to be forgiving (i.e. “If you forgive…” John 20:23 NLT).
He encouraged them to imitate His behavior (i.e. “Follow me!” John 21:19).
Like those first disciples, all of us are created to become like Christ through discipleship. Day by day, moment by moment, we are to be changed into Christlikeness. That’s what our name, Christian, literally means – we are “little Christs.”
As people look at us and listen to us, is there any chance that they’ll be confused and think that we’re Jesus? They will if we are living the life we’re called to live.
4) What will be the CONTRIBUTION of my life?
Throughout His time on earth, Jesus taught His followers they were “to serve and not to be served.” But apparently they didn’t learn that lesson because following His death they became very selfish and self-serving.
So in His final resurrection appearance, Jesus tried to make the point once more. Christ met Peter and several other disciples beside the Sea of Galilee. There He prepared breakfast for them and served them bread and fish. After the meal, Jesus turned to Peter and asked him, “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my sheep,” Jesus told him. (John 21:15-17 NLT)
This pattern was repeated three times, probably because Christ knew Peter was so thick-headed. But the point was clear, as Christ’s followers we demonstrate our love and devotion to Him by helping others because we are shaped for service.
God created each of us with a unique combination of characteristics and experiences that enables us to minister to others in Jesus’ name. So to fulfill our God-given purpose for being on this planet, we have to decide what our contribution is going to be. We were not made to be consumers, but contributors to the common good.
What difference is your life and my life making in the lives of others? Who are we choosing to serve? Where is our place of ministry?
5) What will be the COMMUNICATION of my life?
This is the question Jesus posed to His followers when He encountered them on that first Easter evening behind locked doors. But He refused to allow them to stay there by telling them, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:21 NLT)
In doing so, Christ reminded His disciples they weren’t made to simply meet together for worship and fellowship, but they were also made for a mission. That’s why God doesn’t instantly transport us to heaven once we become Christians. We still have a purpose to fulfill and that purpose is to “go and tell” others. It’s what the New Testament calls evangelism or sharing the good news.
Whether you and I are aware of it or not, everything we do, everywhere we go, every word we speak, communicates a message to those around us. What is your life saying to others? What is the message I am communicating?
Ask yourself: Am I communicating that my life is all about me, that I don’t have time for anyone else, that my job is the most important thing in the world, or that my faith is private?
The Bible makes it very clear that as God’s people we are blessed to be a blessing. And the greatest blessing we can share with others is to communicate to them the Good News we have found in Christ Jesus. Using a term we’ve become familiar with over the past year, we are to be “super spreaders” of the gospel!
So, how did Jesus’ disciples do on the LIFE test He gave them through His crucifixion? They got a big fat “F” and flunked it miserably.
But Jesus’ death wasn’t the final, it was just a pre-test. They got the real exam when Christ fulfilled His promise and rose from the dead. From this point on, they appeared radically different, didn’t they? According to the New Testament they fulfilled their God-given purposes by worshiping the Lord, meeting together in fellowship, being recognized as having been with Jesus, and representing Christ in ministry and mission.
Apparently, Jesus’ teaching struck a chord with them and they had an ‘aha!’ moment. No, there’s more to it than that … and that’s what Easter is all about.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s a big difference between living and life-ing. In John’s gospel, “life” is a major recurring theme (mentioned 36 times). Jesus is introduced as the One who brings life to all (1:4) and the life He gives is both eternal (3:16) and abundant (10:10).
In a summary statement found in chapter 20, John states this purpose for his book.
The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name. (John 20:30-31 NLT)
So life, real life, comes through the power of Jesus’ name. Apart from the life Jesus gives we simply go through the motions of living. And I’m afraid that’s a fate many of us suffer, even some Christians.
Oftentimes we look a whole lot like the disciples prior to their encounter with the Risen Christ, don’t we?
We want to know we’re loved by God and love Him back but that’s hard to do. We long to live in fellowship with others but we keep messing up relationships. We desire to do what’s right but end up doing what’s wrong. We wish to live a life of service but we’re so darned self-centered.
So what’s the answer? Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Listening to Jesus’ teaching is not enough. We have to experience His power and presence. According to John’s gospel, there are two keys for doing so – believing and receiving.
John uses the word, believe, 99 times in his gospel account. To believe involves more than simply thinking with our minds. It includes trusting with our very lives.
The verb, believe, is translated, faith, when used as a noun. To believe means to put our trust, our faith, or our confidence in Jesus Christ. It’s what happened to Thomas when he experienced the Risen Lord. Initially, he doubted the testimony given by others that Jesus was alive. But then when he saw for himself and touched the nail scarred wounds, Thomas believed and trusted Jesus as his Lord and his God (John 20:27).
And here’s the really cool part: Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29 NLT)
That’s you and me … and when we put our faith in Christ and believe He is alive, we are blessed with the gift of life – real, abundant, eternal life.
Living starts with our birth and ends with our death. Life starts with our new or re-birth and never ends. As Buzz Lightyear might say, it extends “to infinity and beyond!” Some of us need to quit doubting and questioning and instead, begin believing and trusting. When we do that, we begin to have a purpose driven life.
Next week we will begin a church-wide study based on “The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” by Pastor Rick Warren. We’ll have a free copy of the book available, one per household, while supplies last. Invite a friend, co-worker, or family member to join us for what should prove to be a life-changing endeavor.
There’s also a second key to experiencing life and the power of Christ – receiving.
One of the fascinating things to me about our celebration of Easter is how casual we are about it. We talk about Jesus being raised from the dead in one breath and refer to the Easter bunny in the next, as if both are equally real and true.
Let’s stop for just a minute and think about what we say happened 2000 years ago. Imagine, if you will, going to the cemetery to visit a loved one’s grave three days after their burial and finding that person sitting on a bench, alive and well.
Or, how about this one? A few days after the funeral, you’re behind locked doors and suddenly your dearly departed family member appears in your midst.
According to John, not only did that happen, but then Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22 NLT)
I don’t know about you, but locked doors wouldn’t matter at that point, I’d make my own door in an effort to get out of there as fast as I could.
But breathing on them wasn’t weird or insignificant at all. In fact, it was the most important thing Jesus did in His resurrected state.
The same language is used elsewhere in the Bible. In Genesis 2:7, “The Lord God formed the man from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (NIV)
Adam just existed until God breathed on him and brought him to life. As God shared His life with the first creation, now Jesus was giving His life to God’s new creation. It’s why Jesus told His disciples it would be advantageous for Him to go away. So that He could provide them with a helper/comforter/counselor – His Holy Spirit.
From those first appearances, our Risen Lord has been breathing on folks ever since. Sometimes we talk about becoming “born again” Christians. I’d suggest we also need to become “breathed on” Christians as well. And Easter is what makes that possible. No longer is Jesus confined to a particular time or location. His life-giving Spirit is now available to all who will believe and receive.
As the popular hymn goes: “I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today; I know that he is living, whatever foes may say. I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer, and just the time I need him, he’s always near. He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today!”
And because of that fact, you and I can enjoy LIFE – abundant life, eternal life. Wow, what a wonderful 4-letter word that is!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Because Jesus lives, we have LIFE by believing in the power of His name and by receiving His Holy Spirit. Happy Easter!