Summary: This is a series of Easter sermons designed to go with the film Risen

Projectionist show video clip 1a—Risen DVD

Today we begin a brand new series based on the movie, Risen. If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to go see it. Better yet, ask a friend to go with you, go out to dinner and see this movie! Then, invite them to this series. Here’s a look at what we will doing:

Today—“The Jesus You Never Knew” Most of us have ideas about Jesus and I imagine most of us think we know Jesus pretty well. The problem is, most of our ideas about Jesus, is nothing like who He really was and is! We picture him like this guy or maybe this, but never like the fearless leader He really was.

And worse, we have a tendency to make Jesus just the way we want Him. We love Jesus the Lamb; we can control that Jesus. But we’re terrified of Jesus the Lion of Judah who is untamable. Most of us settle for a picture of Jesus that is so unlike Him.

Historian Arnold Toynbee once observed, “Most people have not rejected Christianity but rather a caricature of it. They have created a straw man, called that ‘Christianity’ and decided against it.” And often that straw man begins with a caricature of the founder of the movement, Jesus of Nazareth. We are going to look at this in more detail, but let me first give you where we will be heading for the rest of this series. Next week we are going to look at the subject, “The Jesus Who Calls Us to Stop Playing it Safe.” Then on March 24 we’re going to look at the topic, Resurrection: Myth or Miracle. Then on Easter Sunday March 28th, we are going to look at the topic “The Greatest Comeback in History.” Then we will conclude this series with “The Jesus Who Wants Us Fully Alive.” So that is where we are headed, you won’t want to miss any of these Sundays. Come and bring a friend or neighbor with you.

Just for the what-it-is-worth department, every once in awhile we remind you that 82% of people living in a 10 mile radius of our church don’t go to church anywhere. Do you know the most common reason given by people who don’t attend church as to why they don’t? It’s not what you think. Here’s the number 1 reason people don’t go to church: “No one has ever asked me to go to church.” It is that simple and it is that sadly.

The Easter season is the perfect time for you to invest and Invite people to church. We have these door hanger cards to help you, make sure you grab some on the way out.

Now, The Jesus You Never Knew. We have to start by understanding that Jesus was the only person born to die. Bet you never thought of that. When God created the world, and when He created us humans, His perfect plan was so that we would live not die, but He warned our earliest ancestors, “the day you decide to disobey me, the day you sin, you will die.” (Genesis 2:17, Pearrell Loose Translation). And that is exactly what happened. Paul put it this way, “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” (Romans 5:12, NLT). God’s will was for life; our rebellion brought death. God’s intention was not that men and women would die—that was never His intention, nor was His intention that anyone should be lost for eternity; hell was not created for mankind, it was created for fallen angels. Peter reminds us, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV84) Repentance means we have a change of mind that leads to a change of heart that results in a change of behavior.

God’s purpose is life but to obtain that purpose, Jesus had to die. He was the only man born for the purpose of death. An anonymous hymn-writer wrote, “He came to die on a cross of wood yet made the hill on which it stood.”

The cross was not “plan B.” God knew before He ever created mankind that we would rebel against Him. The Bible describes the event in Revelation 13:8 when it describes Jesus as “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.”

Before the Triune God ever uttered the first fiat of creation, He already knew what it would cost Him. The Son participated in that creation with full knowledge of what He would have to do if His creation was to be redeemed. To me, that is unfathomable! Come on, think of it—we are not that important. God did not need us. He wasn’t lonely in Heaven. Despite what some people seem to think, He did not need His ego stroked—I mean if you listen to the modern atheists, one of their big complaints is thinking that God is a cosmic narcissist who just craves our attention. Nothing could be further from the truth!

By definition God is self-sufficient; there is nothing He needs. So why did He create a world He knew not only would instantly rebel against Him, a world that He knew would seek to dethrone Him, a world He knew would cost Him dearly if He created it? I believe the answer to that is He wanted to show His unfathomable love to us. Two passages of Scripture on this: Romans 5:8 and one most of us are somewhat familiar with since we see it displayed somewhere at every professional sporting event, John 3:16.

Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV84).

This is the first truth about the Jesus of the New Testament; the Jesus most of us never really knew. Most of us, even most Christians, have the idea that Jesus came for good people. He did not. None of us is good. Oh, we might think we are better than someone else, and by human measurements we might be better than some (or at least we like to think so), but the measuring rod is not your neighbor; it’s God. That’s why Jesus said to the rich young ruler that “there is no one good but God.”(Mark 10:16). So, unless you are as good as God, you are not good.

The second truth here is that He didn’t come to make us good. We don’t have to pull ourselves up by the boot straps or clean up our act first. No! “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV84).

Here is something you need to know—you are not saved by repentance. Repentance is a response to God’s gift of salvation, not a pre-requisite for it. God’s love for you and for me is based on His character not our performance. God doesn’t love us for what we do, He loves us because it is who He is!

So, here’s the verse everyone either knows or is somewhat familiar with: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV84).

“For God so loved the world . . . .” We look around the world and we see a mess. We see violence, crime, racial tensions, in the Middle East, genocide, and there is not really anything that should commend us to God. Nothing.

Then we come to this verse and we discover that God’s love overcame His hatred for what He sees and knows and He did something, “He gave His One and Only Son.”

There is no better way that the Father could have expressed the depth of His love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV84). There is no greater sacrifice than that.

The story is told of a church where, after a few of the usual Sunday evening hymns, the church’s pastor slowly stood up, walked over to the pulpit and, before he gave his sermon for the evening, briefly introduced a guest minister who was in the service that evening. In the introduction, the pastor told the congregation that the guest minister was one of his dearest childhood friends and that he wanted him to have a few moments to greet the church and share whatever he felt would be appropriate for the service.

With that, an elderly man stepped up to the pulpit and began to speak.

“A father, his son, and a friend of his son were sailing off the pacific coast,” he began, “when a fast approaching storm blocked any attempt to get back to the shore. The waves were so high, that even though the father was an experienced sailor, he could not keep the boat upright and the three were swept into the ocean as the boat capsized.”

The old man hesitated for a moment, making eye contact with two teenagers who were, for the first time since the service began, looking somewhat interested in his story. The aged minister continued with his story, “grabbing a rescue line, the father had to make the most excruciating decision of his life: to which boy he would throw the other end of the life line. He only had seconds to make the decision. The father knew that his son was a Christian and he also knew that his son’s friend was not. The agony of his decision could not be matched by the torrent of waves. As the father yelled out, “I love you, son!” He threw out the life line to his son’s friend. By the time the father had pulled the friend back to the capsized boat, his son had disappeared beneath the raging swells into the black of night . . . His body was never recovered.

By this time, the two teenagers were sitting up straight in the pew, anxiously waiting for the next words to come out of the old minister’s mouth.

“the father,” he continued, “knew his son would step into eternity with Jesus and he could not bear the thought of his son’s friend stepping into an eternity without Jesus. Therefore, he sacrificed his son to save the son’s friend. How great is the love of God that he should do the same for us. Our heavenly father sacrificed his only begotten son that we could be saved. I urge you to accept his offer to rescue you and take a hold of the life line he is throwing out to you in this service.”

. . . With that, the old man turned and sat back down in his chair as silence filled the room.

The pastor again walked slowly to the pulpit and delivered a brief sermon with an invitation at the end. However, no one responded to the appeal. Within minutes after the service ended, the two teenagers were at the old man’s side. “that was a nice story,” politely stated one of the boys, “but I don’t think it was very realistic for a father to give up his only son’s life in hopes that the other boy would become a Christian.”

“Well, you’ve got a point there,” the old man replied, glancing down at his worn bible. A big smile broadened his narrow face, he once again looked up at the boys and said, “it sure isn’t very realistic, is it? But, I’m standing here today to tell you that story gives me a glimpse of what it must have been like for god to give up his son for me. You see — I was that father and your pastor is my son’s friend.”

I cannot verify is that is a true story or not. I have heard that it is, but there are now variations which are not true now popping up on various web-sites. True or not it is the perfect illustration of what it would mean for a father to sacrifice his Son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV84).

Whether we like it or not, the Scriptures teach there are two destinations in eternity: heaven or hell. It is precisely because of the teachings of hell that many reject Christ and Christianity.

The best response to the objection of hell comes from C.S. Lewis. After talking about how he too detests the doctrine and recognizing the harm that has been done by some who have misused the concept, he reminds of the greater damage done by those who dismiss the concept.

Then he writes: “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside. I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man ‘wishes’ to be happy; but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.”

Think of it this way: if a person lives their entire lives insisting that God leave them alone, and then if after death they are forced into a situation where they have no choice but do His will, that would be hell for them, wouldn’t it?

Lewis continues: “In the long run the answer to all those who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question: ‘What are you asking God to do?’ To wipe out their past sins and, at all costs, to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But He has done so, on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I am afraid that is what He does.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain pp. 127-128).

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV84). That’s it. It is not what you do for God, it is what He has already done for you. Have you accepted His gift? Have to placed your trust not in what you can do for God but what He has done for you on the Cross?

Many people reject Christianity because they think it is too narrow; too condemning. Let me just say truth is always narrow. Regarding the idea that Christianity is too condemning Jesus said, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17, NIV84). Jesus didn’t come to condemn us, He came to remedy our condemnation. He came to save us. Jesus didn’t come to condemn, and we as His followers should be the least condemning people on the face of the earth! Jesus didn’t come to condemn, He came to save us, but if we refuse that, we already stand condemned. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18, NIV84)

Suppose you are caught in a burning building and there is only one way out. What are you going to do? Are you going to take that one way out, or are you going to complain that it is not fair and there should be other ways out? My guess is you are not going to think twice about it, you will take the path to sure safety and life.

God has offered us a way out of our condemnation. It is free to us but it cost Him His Son. Are you going to debate the fairness of it, or are you going to run to the only way to safety and life?

Let me pray for us.