Saturday, November 9, 2013

Gimme Some of That!

Good Morning! Before we get too serious, I’d like to show you one of the most amazing things you’ll see today. It’s in this bag. I suppose I should warn you, though – you might think that it is not that amazing… sometimes we become so accustomed to amazing things – to laughter, to music, to forgiveness, to joy, to freedom, to peace – that we forget just how amazing they are… But with that in mind, ladies and gentlemen, I give you… a glass of water!

Yes: water. What did you expect, a magic trick? Pshh. Magic tricks have nothing on water. Water might not just be one of the most amazing things you’ll see today, it might in fact be one of the most amazing things you will ever see in your entire life. Too bad it is so easy to overlook just how amazing it really is.

Of course, we are all used to water – we can’t live without it. Our bodies are 65% water. Without water, we’d die. Without food, we can survive for thirty, maybe forty days. Do you know how many days we can live without water? Three or four. At camp, they encourage everyone to drink a lot of … water. And if you go to camp, you can enjoy sunshine, activities and friends, but most everybody says that one of the best things about camp is… the lake. That beautiful, huge, collection of… water.

So what’s so amazing about water? Well, water has some wonderful properties that are not only both super-cool, but are absolutely necessary for life. If God didn’t make water in exactly the right way – if it didn’t have all of these very special properties, then there couldn’t be any life – ever. In the past, scientists speculated that there might be the possibility of different kinds of life, with different chemicals. But not any more: now we now that the only possible kind of physical life is the one that we all know – based on Carbon and water.

Property number one: surface tension. Of all liquids we know, water has one of the greatest surface tensions. Because of this, water can come through the roots of trees, and shoot all the way up to the top – against gravity – hundreds of feet. Cool, huh? Check out these pictures, if you don’t think water is amazing. [PIC]

I have permission to use these pictures, by the way, as the photographer is a friend. Property number two: solubility. Water can dissolve things. Lots of things. More things than any other liquid. Because of this, water can transmit all the important minerals necessary for life. All those minerals that we can’t live without – you don’t appreciate how important they are until you have a deficiency. As many of you know, I discovered last year that I’m celiac. And the first manifestation of that is to discover that your mineral deficient. Not fun. But without the high solubility of water, none of those important minerals would be able to get to where they need to go.

Property number three: heat capacity. Water has the highest heat capacity per volume of any known substance. Ever been to a really old house? They might have had “radiators” in the rooms – and hot water was piped into those radiators. Hot water heating is actually reasonably efficient – because of this property.

Property number four: solid density. Have you ever seen an ice cube on the bottom of a glass of water? Neither have I! Water is the only compound that is less dense when it freezes. Otherwise, during the winter, the ice would start to form on the bottom of the lake. And if it did, once again there simply couldn’t be any life at all.

Now if you are thinking “STOP! This should be a sermon not a science class!” you only have to remember one thing: water is amazing. And God made water in precisely the perfect way so that there could be life.

Water is so important that we even pipe it into our houses, don’t we? Any time you want, you can go to the sink in the kitchen or the sink in the bathroom, turn a tap, and you can get running water – and either hot or cold! But we didn’t always do that –years ago, instead of turning on the tap to get water, folks had to take a bucket and go to the pump. And before that? A well. When you got to the well, you would let a bucket down on a rope, and pull the water up. If your well was fancy you could let the bucket down with a handle. [PIC] This morning, I’m going to remind you of a story in the Bible about a well.

One day, Jesus and his disciples were going on a long journey, and to get where they were going, they needed to walk through a region called Samaria. And this story takes place when they stopped in the middle of Samaria… at a well, of course. After all, when you are traveling by foot, it is important to hydrate yourself.

But Samaria wasn’t the “right” place to be. It was like being “on the wrong side of the tracks.” Of course, that’s the expression we use to describe the “wrong” side of town. That’s where I grew up. At the church I went to growing up, I sometimes felt excluded because I came from the wrong part of town and went to the wrong school. Anyone had an experience like that? Anybody ever felt left out or excluded because of something you couldn’t help?

Some people will be mean to you if you speak the wrong language. Some people will be mean to you if you have the wrong color skin. Some people will be mean to you if you are too tall, or too short, or too fat or too skinny, or maybe if you come from the wrong place. Samaria was the wrong place. Going to a well in the middle of Samaria reminds me of this picture [PIC]

This is a picture of two water fountains. Back when this picture was taken, in 1950, there were places in the United States that separated folk on the basis of the color of their skin. If you were white, you could have a drink at the clean, new water fountain. But if you weren’t – if you were Asian, or Latino, or Black, then you had to use the old, dirty water fountain. Not cool.

But back when Jesus was waiting at the well in the middle of Samaria, they didn’t just judge people on the basis of their skin – they also used to judge people by something else that people can’t help – whether the person is a man or a woman. Back then, women weren’t considered as important as men. In fact, there were some men who were very proud of the fact that they would never even talk to a woman. Women weren’t treated as equals in any way at all back then.

So what changed? How come things are so different now? What made people come to decide that people are important because they are people, and not because the color of their skin or the letters in their chromosomes? Well – the answer to that question is in the story I’m about to tell you.

You see, when Jesus and his disciples got to this well as they were walking through Samaria, Jesus asked his disciples to go into town to buy some food. He wanted to be there. Alone. Just then. You see, when the disciples had left, a woman arrives at the well. Jesus likely knew that she would be coming. [PIC] And Jesus goes up to her and talks to her. Here’s how the conversation starts: Jesus: “Will you give me a drink?”

No big deal, right? Wrong. This is huge. Remember I told you that there were some men back then who were proud of the fact that they would never talk to a woman? There were also those who were proud that they would never talk to a Samaritan. By these six words, Jesus broke with a culture and set the wheels of history turning. Also please note that Jesus is not giving this woman instruction. By requesting her assistance, he is humbling himself, putting himself at the mercy of her willingness to help. This is quite a new thing altogether. To appreciate just how ground-breaking this was, listen to the reaction of the woman:

“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

Everything this woman knew; everything she had been told; everything she had ever heard or experienced had convinced her that men were mean and untrustworthy and selfish. And everything this woman knew; everything she had been told; everything she had ever heard or experienced had convinced her that the Jews (and of course Jesus was a Jew) were these stuck-up, hypocritical, mean people. So when Jesus asks her for a drink, she’s like “Wait, What??” Are you talking to me? And here – for the first time in history, someone – not just any someone, of course – someone whose name was Jesus – breaks through the wall of racism, and breaks through the wall of sexism, and he talks to this Samaritan woman as if she is a human being. And she’s shocked.

Nearly two thousand years later, Jesus’ followers, little by little, one at a time, not with big shows or campaigns or laws, but with character and with love, have taken what their leader started and have changed the world. In Canada, in 2013, at least some people (perhaps most) consider a woman to be just as important as a man – just like Jesus did. And in Canada, in 2013, at least some people (perhaps most) consider every race and every color skin to be just as important as each other – just like Jesus did. There is just no way to explain the birth of civil rights or women’s rights, or their success anywhere in the world, without realizing how much Jesus changed the world. And this is just one of the stories that began that change.

But why do I talk about human rights and women’s rights from the pulpit? Two reasons. First, God cares about them. He doesn’t care about them as political tools, or as academic exercises. Instead, as our story this morning shows, he cares about them because he cares about individual people. Second, these are the things that people in our time and in our culture care about. These are the things that schools are teaching your children to be so important. Human rights and women’s rights are what we might call “cultural categories of concern.” If we want to talk to our neighbors about the Gospel, we would do well to be able to speak their language and understand the concerns that they have.

And hey! That’s exactly what Jesus did with this woman in our story this morning, didn’t he? In verse 20, we see that one of her cultural categories of concern was religious and political. She says, “You Jews worship God in Jerusalem, but we Samaritans worship God on this mountain.” And Jesus responds with great truth and wisdom. Listen to his reply: “…true worshipers worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”

See what he just did? Her concern was one of ritual. It was a source of conflict. It was a barrier between communities. His solution was to look beyond the conflict, to see things from God’s perspective, and to explain how God’s reality is bigger than our cultural categories. When we tell people that Jesus did more for the cause of human rights and for the cause of women’s rights than anyone else in history, yes: we tell them that because it is true. But by doing so we aren’t agreeing that these cultural categories are the most important thing. Instead, we’re explaining that God’s reality is bigger than that – and that God’s perspective is bigger than any present cultural conflict.

But you know, it is even bigger than that. I told you that Jesus broke down the wall of sexism. This is true. And Jesus broke down the wall of racism. This is also true. But please pay attention to how the conversation continues:

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Wow. Jesus doesn’t just beat around the bush – he gets right to the point. God has a gift. And that gift is living water. And Jesus is the one to come to for it. Living water? What’s that? I’ve already told you how amazing water – just plain water – is. How critical it is for life. But now Jesus is talking about something altogether more amazing: living water. How could anyone respond to this but with curiosity and skepticism? And of course that’s exactly how the woman responds: she says, “the well is deep, and you have no bucket – how can you get this living water?”

Clearly, she doesn’t get it – but listen carefully to Jesus response: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,” he replied, “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Living water. Water that springs up inside us. Water that results in eternal life. “Give me some of that!” she says. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the effect of the gospel in a human life. When the seed breaks through the soil, when a human mind is finally open to the power and love of God – there is something deep inside that says “give me some of that!” Did the woman require all her needs to be met before she could come to that point? No. Of course not. Did the woman require all her questions to be answered before she could come to that point? No. Of course not. She simply recognized her need and heard the voice of Jesus saying “Come to me, any one of you, no matter what burdens are weighing you down; come, and I will give you rest.” Perhaps there’s someone here who needs to hear that voice this morning…

But now, the conversation takes a strange turn. The woman appears to be responding to the message (she just said “give me some of that” after all), but instead of closing the deal, Jesus does “exactly the wrong thing”. It is like he’s taking a blow-torch to the book “How to win friends and influence people”. What does he do? Jesus lays a guilt-trip on her. This is what he says “Go call your husband and come back.” And she replies “I’m not married.” And Jesus responds: “You are right to say you are not married. You’ve been married and divorced five times, and now you’re living with another guy you aren’t even married to!”

But please understand: Jesus isn’t just laying on the guilt trip. Jesus is trying to teach a lesson – and he’s trying to teach it to… us! You see, Jesus was willing to talk to this woman and ask her for water even though she was a woman. Jesus was willing to talk to this woman and ask her for water even though she was a Samaritan. But Jesus was also willing to talk to this woman and ask her for water even though she was, well, not exactly the kind of person your Mother would like you hanging around with. Let’s face it: it isn’t exactly cool to be divorced. Being divorced once is bad enough. Not good. Not good at all. But five times. Come on. There had got to be something wrong with the woman, right? Maybe, maybe not. All we know is that Jesus was not ashamed to talk to her.

In fact, by asking this woman, this Samaritan woman, this adulterous Samaritan woman for a drink; being willing to request and receive a drink from her, Jesus was telling her that she was “clean”. According to the Pharisees, of all people in the entire territory, this woman would be among the most “unclean” of all. But she isn’t unclean to Jesus. After all, moments later, Jesus tells her that God is actually looking for people to worship Him in spirit and truth. And what’s the point of telling her that unless God is actually looking for people like her to worship Him in spirit and truth?

That’s right. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is; it doesn’t matter what language you speak; it doesn’t matter whether you’re a man or a woman; it doesn’t matter whether you’ve done bad things in the past. Jesus wants to meet you. He wants to capture your imagination. He wants to speak to your heart. He wants to challenge you, and he wants to give you that gift from God; that living water – that can spring up in your life and give you a peace and a hope like you can’t even imagine.

But the story doesn’t end there. Let’s read what happens next (verse 28) “So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.’”

This, my friends, is the second effect of the gospel. Do you remember the first? First, the woman said “give me some of that”. She recognized her need, she recognized her weakness. And she was willing to offer Jesus the opportunity to help her in her suffering. But now that she has met him, she shows us the second effect of the gospel. And she can’t help herself: she’s needs to share, “You gotta come and meet this guy!” And here we find the perfect scriptural model of evangelism, don’t we?

In 2 Corinthians 13:5, the Bible tells us: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” Well here’s the test. This is an open-book exam; a take-home quiz. There are only two questions. Number one: have you ever heard Jesus’ offer – really heard it? – and said, “Gimme some of that!” Do you have that living water bubbling up inside you right now? Do you see it changing your heart? Is it making you easier to live with? Is it making you less concerned about yourself? That’s the first question.

And the second question is like it. Have you ever, when running into friends or relatives or neighbors, been so moved by Jesus’ words that instead of talking about hockey, or music, or the weather, you said “Hey – I’d love to introduce you to this guy!”? Is that living water inside you bubbling up enough to splash out and bless those around you?

Now if you aren’t there yet, don’t panic. If you aren’t naturally telling people about what Jesus is doing in your life, if you aren’t yet comfortable to bring his name up in conversation, then there is only one remedy – and feeling like a failure isn’t it. The remedy is simply this: you need to get to know Jesus more! You need to sit at his feet and be taught. You need to pay attention to his example. You need to appreciate the depth of his wisdom and love: love for you and love for the world – love that let him to make the ultimate sacrifice of his life on the cross for each of us. And when you do start to appreciate his great love, you won’t be able to contain yourself – because his living water isn’t just a personal thing. It isn’t something that we hide in the closet. It bubbles up, and it bubbles out!

To be a follower of Christ, to be a Christian is not about peddling a product. To be a Christian is not about lobbying for a political stance. To be a Christian is not about arguing a philosophical position. To be a Christian is not about advocating a moral behavior.

Instead, Christians are those who, having met this incredible person, simply say to their friends and neighbors “Hey! You really gotta come and meet this guy.” Now I’m going to ask you to bear with me for a few minutes, while I get personal. I’ve already told you that I’ve been divorced. But more recently, I’ve become engaged to be remarried. And I can’t help it: I’d really like you to meet my fiancĂ©e. (She gave me permission to do this, in case you’re wondering) Unfortunately, she’s presently in Istanbul, but I can show you a picture. Here she is with her sister’s grandson. [PIC]

I love this woman, and I think that she’s a wonderful person. We were acquainted many years ago, and we recently renewed that friendship. I could go on and on, but I promised her that I wouldn’t. But here’s the point: I really, truly do want you to meet Esther. I actually think that getting to know her would be a blessing for you. Any one of you! But as special as she is, the blessing of knowing her couldn’t come close to the blessing that is waiting for you if you would be willing to get to know Jesus.

Yes: I’ve met an incredible person, and I want to say to all my friends and neighbors “Hey! I want you to meet this person!” Anybody who values me can’t help but value her. And many of you, when you get to know her, will be quickly convinced that I’ve got the better end of the deal. But that’s the dynamic of evangelism, isn’t it? The good news is that Jesus is an incredible person. At first, people will be willing to listen about Jesus because they value you. But when they stop listening about Jesus, and start listening to Jesus, they’ll soon learn how amazing he is for themselves.

Wouldn’t it be strange and wrong if I wanted to marry someone, but I didn’t want any of my friends to meet her? Sure thing! But in the same way, if Jesus really has saved you; if Jesus really has forgiven you; if Jesus really has given you living water, then how can you NOT want to introduce him to others?

But it all starts with that living water, doesn’t it? If you don’t have enough to be bubbling out, ask Jesus – he’d like you, too, to experience the thrill of eternal life.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Evidence and more!

He is risen! (He is risen indeed!) What a ground-breaking, history-making, breath-taking event! Jesus has conquered death once and for all, and has blazed the trail for us, so that we can experience that new life. And as we come (today!) to celebrate this, Our Lord’s victory over death, let’s read from the book of Luke, chapter 24: (verses 13-45)

Now that same day, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.

That “everything”, incidentally, included the arrest, trial, execution and burial of Jesus.

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said but they did not see Jesus.

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven (disciples) and those with them, assembled together and saying [among themselves], “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon,” Then the two [arrived and] told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

I love this story. I wish I had been there! I would have loved to have heard Jesus opening the Scriptures for his disciples. But I also love this story for another reason. In these few verses, Jesus meets with two different sets of disciples and… you probably noticed that he treats them very differently... among other things, this tells us that Jesus meets us where we are, doesn’t it? Rather than insisting that we come to him and do things his way, he show us great love by dealing with each of us in our own unique way.

With the first two disciples on the road, he is actually quite brusque, isn’t he? “How foolish and slow” he says to them! And then he engages them entirely on an intellectual level. The Bible doesn’t tell us why these two were unable to recognize Jesus. My favorite hypothesis is that it was raining, they had hoods up and they were worried about the puddles on the road. But it doesn’t matter – because they didn’t recognize him, their conversation was quite formal and perhaps a bit theoretical.

On the other hand, when Jesus appears to all the disciples together later on, his tone is completely different. “Peace be with you,” he says at the outset – very personal, very compassionate. And then he indulges their fears and doubts by demonstrating beyond question that he is not a ghost, and that he has indeed risen from the dead.

You know, folks have gone to great lengths to avoid the truth of the resurrection. But the evidence makes that challenging! Historians agree that Jesus was a historical person. Historians agree that he was crucified by the Romans. But the evidence that he was alive and well after his crucifixion is so strong, some people have actually suggested that he didn’t in fact die on that cross. This is why the very next thing that Jesus says to the gathered disciples is “Look at my hands and my feet”– he is showing the marks of the nails that held him on that cross! Jesus had, indeed, been subjected to that era’s most brutally efficient and thorough form of execution. Just try telling the Roman soldier in charge of the execution detail that Jesus hadn’t actually died. That was his job; that was his business. And he wouldn’t have tolerated any “mostly dead” customers. As one modern skeptic writes:

It is impossible that a being who had stolen half-dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill, wanting medical treatment, who required bandaging, strengthening, and indulgence… could have given the disciples the impression that he was a conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of Life.

Quite so – but just like the disciples were skeptical at first, Jesus knew that many others would be, too. “Look at my hands and my feet,” he says. Now the next worry that the disciples inevitably had was that they were hallucinating – that this wasn’t actually Jesus, but was perhaps a ghost. So right away Jesus asks them for food so that he could eat it in front of them – after all, they knew that neither ghosts nor hallucinations ate food. Jesus was concerned that the disciples knew the facts. Jesus wanted them to be familiar with the evidence. These disciples aren’t just weak-minded sheep. They need convincing. And convincing is what they got. But note that it isn’t their rationality that gets in the way of their belief. Just the opposite! It is their irrationality that results in it taking so long for the reality – for the facts – to sink in.

It always amuses me when people (typically people on the internet who need to get out more) claim that there is no evidence for the resurrection. There certainly is! As it says in Acts 1:3 “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.” “Ah” these people would reply, “you can’t take that as evidence: it is in the Bible!” Now this is really remarkable. First they want evidence, but when the evidence is so convincing that it makes people devote their entire lives to it and write it down for posterity, then suddenly we’re not allowed to take that as evidence anymore. Where is the logic in that?

But speaking of evidence: let me share something with you that I learned recently. Now just to be clear: I’m not claiming that this proves anything. I just think that it is really neat. In the time of Jesus, the penalty for grave-robbing was a large fine. But sometime shortly after Jesus, that changed. And the only place that we evidence of that change is in the land of Israel. Archaeologists have found an inscription on a marble slab with an “ordinance of Caesar” – (that’s a new law) and it reads:

It is [Caesar’s] pleasure that graves and tombs remain perpetually undisturbed…. If, however, anyone charges that another has either demolished [such a tomb] or has in any other way [and this is the interesting part] extracted the buried, or has maliciously transferred them to other places … or has displaced the sealing or other stones… let them be brought to trial and let… the offender be sentenced to capital punishment…. You have to wonder what could possibly push the leader of the Roman Empire to interrupt his busy schedule to establish a radical new punishment for a very, very rare crime in a far-off corner of the Empire. It certainly would suggest that a certain recent empty tomb had had some very significant consequences!

But you know – when it comes to the resurrection, it isn’t like one scholar has more facts than another one. Everyone is dealing with the same pieces of information. And it isn’t like one scholar is smarter than another. And it isn’t like one scholar went to a better school than another. None of those things seem to make any difference. Listen to what Pascal wrote about that:

God so regulates the knowledge of himself that he has given indications of himself which are visible to those who seek him and not to those who do not seek him. [He is w]illing to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from him with all their heart. There is enough light for those who only desire to see, and enough darkness for those who have the contrary disposition.

So at this stage, we can’t prove the resurrection happened. But there certainly is plenty of evidence for it – so much evidence that the disciples could do no other than believe.

And note that Jesus – in keeping with his incarnation (the God of creation coming down to share our humanity) and in keeping with his mission (to seek and to save the lost) – Jesus does not just snap his fingers and expect his disciples to immediately “get it”. Rather, he meets them where they are – with their fears, and their doubts, and their worries, and their preconceptions. And he slowly brings them to the truth – until they absolutely, positively, cannot doubt the truth before them –that Death. Has. Been. Conquered.

But you know, as awesome as that is, as amazing as that is, as game-changing as that is… that’s not all. Jesus had something else in mind. After Jesus had convinced the disciples— “Then…

… he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” – Luke 24:45

And this was on Jesus’ agenda for both sets of disciples, wasn’t it? Sure, the facts were important. The facts were simply that he had died, he had been buried, and that he rose from the dead. But Jesus also wanted his disciples to understand the meaning of those facts. Jesus needed the disciples to understand that his death and resurrection are part of God’s cosmic plan to save creation. And along with creation, to save you and me, too.

At this stage, whenever we hear about someone “opening the scriptures” we sometimes make the mistake of filing that into our “that’s just a religious thing” bucket. Sure, one aspect of opening the scriptures is certainly religious, but I’d like to highlight another aspect this morning. You see, back in Jesus time, the scriptures were the basis for an understanding of the world. Their education was a scriptural education.

What this means is that Jesus wants us to be able to situate the events of Easter in our understanding of the world. But I need to warn you: whenever we do that, these events have a way of taking over! Sure, we might think that we are fitting the historical events of Jesus death and resurrection into our understanding of the world, but when we really deeply accept them, they eventually become the basis for our understanding of the world.

You see, there can be – there should be – a personal connection between Easter and each one of us. And in order appreciate this connection, I’m going to ask you to indulge me briefly and consider a profound philosophical question:

“What’s the point?”

Isn’t that a great question? It is the kind of question that can stop you in your tracks. It is the kind of question that teenagers like to ask their parents – often because they know we don’t have a legitimate answer. There are few things quite as satisfying as being able to “get the point” – and there are few things quite as tragic as “missing the point”.

So “What’s the point?”

See the arrow? See the point? Well, the point is usually found at the end of the arrow, isn’t it? When we ask “What’s the point?” we’re really asking “What is it that we are pointing toward?”

With language, we can interpret this arrow with certain key phrases – certain “linguistic arrows”. Here are two of them: “in order” “so that” Let’s start with an example, to get the idea – pay attention, and you’ll hear those linguistic arrows in the story I’m about to tell. What’s the point of… studying?

When I was a grad student, we played host family for a very bright young man from China – one of the first students to leave China in the aftermath of Tiananmen Square, if anyone remembers that. Doing the dishes together every evening, Fang and I had many a good discussion about just about every topic. One evening, I asked him about his devotion to studying. Well, he told me, He studied in order to do well in Engineering, to graduate near the top of his class. So I asked him what he intended to do next. Ah. He wanted good marks so that he could get into grad studies at an American University. A fine goal, I thought. “But what was the point of that?” I asked. He wanted to work for Microsoft, he said (this was long before Google). And what did he expect that would provide, I asked. He would make lots of money so that he could retire. “I see.” I said, “All of this is in order to have a comfortable retirement…” And at that, he smiled. He held up his hand, he had caught on, and realized what the obvious next question was: “so what’s the point of that?” Why pretend that the entire reason for one’s life is the very end of it?

When people nearing the end of their lives are asked about what they would do differently if they had a chance, they don’t typically say that they wish they had worked harder to make their retirement more comfortable. People who run after wealth or pleasure or learning never seem to reach satisfaction. They always report that those pursuits are like chasing the wind, as Solomon puts it. Instead, when surveys have asked elderly people that question, one of the answers that comes up to the top is that they would have liked to have invested more time and energy in things that have lasting value – things that go beyond just this life.

Remember how Solomon puts it? “[God] has also set eternity in the human heart” -- we long for there to be a point – a real point – a point to life itself – that goes beyond our time on earth. And as C.S.Lewis says, this longing isn’t just a cosmic accident:

A man's physical hunger does not prove that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man's hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some … will.

Right on. And in the empty tomb, we find something beyond just a philosophical argument. We find strong and convincing evidence that there is indeed something beyond this life. But that isn’t the only point of Easter! Let’s see what the Bible says... Let’s have a quick look at three verses that each have those magic words (those “linguistic arrows”) – each giving us a better idea of the point of Easter.

Romans 6:4 “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

This is the point folks: in fact, this is what it means to be a Christian – as Leonard Ravenhill put it: Christ didn’t come to make bad people good; he came to make dead people live! Here’s another important one:

Romans 8:16-17 “we are God’s children … and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” This verse highlights an important aspect of the Easter story that we often try to avoid. You see, there is no glory without suffering. There is no resurrection without death. If we do not take up our cross and follow Jesus, we cannot expect to share in his resurrection. One last one:

Romans 14:9 “Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”

…so that he might be Lord of all. And this isn’t just a theological statement. And this isn’t a cosmic ego-trip, either – this is the same Jesus who the Bible says put aside equality with God and emptied himself for our sakes.

Tim Keller: Everyone has to live for something. Whatever that something is becomes “Lord of your life,” whether you think of it that way or not. Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally.

The Bible says that “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Some will do so willingly, like the cheering crowds watching the parade. On the other hand, some will do so grudgingly. The captives at the end of the parade never have much choice in the matter. But the same is our experience, whether we like it or not. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. You can do it willingly, joining with those who cheer on the conqueror of Death, or you can waste your life and end up there anyway. The choice is yours.