Because…

 

Opening:

          Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! 

We have an Easter tradition that we borrowed from the Greek Orthodox Church.  We greet each other by saying, “Christ is risen”, and then answering, “He is risen indeed!”  Let’s try it together.  (twice)

          He is risen, and that’s why we’re here today.  So we know why we are here; but why did He do it?  Why did God send His Son for us?  Why did Jesus die on the cross and why was He raised from the dead?  Why?

          Remember when you were kids and you wanted to do something and your parents said “no”.  You asked “why?” and they said, “Because.”  And you asked “because why?”  It’s a time-honored family tradition that has gone on for centuries!  We always want to get to the why, don’t we?  That’s what we’re going to do today; we’re going to talk about the why of Easter.

 

Greeting:

Christ is risen!  (He is risen indeed!) Now, let’s use it to greet each other; welcome someone around you.

 

Offering and announcements:

          Next Sunday, we start a new series of talks called, “The Questioning God.”  How many of you have questions you would like God to answer?  Me too.  Did you know that God has some questions He would like to ask you? There are questions that God asked of people in the Bible; I think God wants to ask them of us too.  Starting next week, we’re going to let God ask us those questions; it should be pretty challenging stuff.

          Other announcements: Bible reading plan; info meeting for Kenya.

How many of you are here today as our guests?  Welcome—we’re so glad you came!  How many of you are Life Center regulars—this is your church home?  Wonderful!  These are the people who are giving in today’s offering! I love this verse:

2 Corinthians 9:7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

So many of you are living examples of this: you give cheerfully and generously. Thank you!

 

Introduction:

          It’s ok to come home.  Our Father finds us and invites us back into relationship with Him.  Every one of us faces a choice like Kylie.  You and I—each one of us—at some point in our lives stand on the bridge and have to decide: am I going to head toward home or not?  It’s ok to come home.

That was the message in a wonderful story Jesus told about a father with two sons; the younger son decided to leave home, strike out on his own, and asked for his share of the inheritance—a pretty sassy thing to do when your dad is still alive! It’s like saying, “I wish you were dead, dad.  All I want is your money.”  That had to hurt.  The young man got the cash, moved far away, and quickly squandered all his money in wild living.  About that time, a famine hit; he had no money left, so he had to take a job slopping hogs—about the worst job ever for a young Jewish man.  He was so hungry that he wanted to eat the hog slop—you’ve gotta be really hungry to want to eat hog slop!  His hunger finally drove him to his senses: “My dad’s hired hands have plenty to eat, and here I am starving to death.  I’m going home; I’m going back to my father, and I’ll tell him, ‘I have sinned against God and you; I’m not worthy to be your son; just take me back as a hired hand.’” 

Think about that for a moment.  After the way he treated his father, what kind of welcome might he receive? There are some fathers who would say, “Tough luck, son.  You made your choice; enjoy the hog slop.”  Somehow, this kid knew that his dad would take him back, despite the horrible things he had done.  It’s ok to come home.

So he heads for home.  Meanwhile, his father must have been watching for him, because when he was still a long ways off, his father saw him, ran to him and hugged and kissed him.  By the way, the running part is important: Jewish men didn’t run in public; it was considered undignified.  This father was so excited to see his son that he forgot about propriety, he forgot about his dignity, and just took off running! 

The son started the apology he had rehearsed: “Father, I have sinned against God and you and I’m not worthy to be your son.”  That’s as far as he got; his father interrupted him and shouted to his servants, “Quick, bring the best robe and put it on it him; bring the family ring to put on his finger, and shoes for his feet.  And while you’re at it, bring out the fat calf and the frozen cheesecake we’ve been saving!  We’re going to have a party, because my son son is home!”  It’s ok to come home.

          Who is the father in the story?  God.  And who is this lost son?  You.  Me.  Each of us.  There is another son—the good son—we’ll get to him a little later.  But right now, I want you to know that every person has to decide: am I going to return to my father—am I going home—or am I going to keep slopping hogs on my own?  We all stand on the bridge—it’s ok to come home.

          The Bible says that all of us, like sheep, have gone astray—we’ve wandered far from God.  So God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd to come and find us and bring us back to the Father. Jesus came and lived a sinless life—a perfect life—to show us who God is and what He is like.  Do you want to know what God is like?  Look at Jesus.  He is God wrapped in human flesh.  Every question I have about God is best answered in Jesus, because in Jesus, the invisible God became visible. Do you want to know what God is like?  Look at Jesus.

          Jesus’ perfect life by itself wasn’t enough to bring us back to God.  There was a barrier between God and us that needed to be removed, a chasm between God and us that needed to be bridged.  That barrier, that chasm was our sin, our rebellion. Our first ancestors, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God even though they knew the penalty was death.  And ever since, we’ve all followed suit. We all rebelled against God and went our own way. In effect we said, “I wish you were dead; all I want is your stuff.”

          So Jesus did more than live a perfect life; He died a sacrificial death.  He died in your place and mine.  The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The penalty for sin is death—our sin is what stands between us a holy God.  So Jesus died in our place and paid our penalty; and by doing that He removed the barrier and bridged the chasm. 

          He died for our sins, but God raised Him from the dead, so that not only was our sin defeated but so was death itself!  God saved us!  This is what we celebrate on Easter Sunday: God raised Him from the dead, defeating sin and death, and saving us.  What we couldn’t do for ourselves, He did for us!  I couldn’t save myself; neither could you; so God saved us!  In Jesus, God came to our rescue.  But why?  I found the answer in a letter the apostle Paul wrote to Titus; it’s in the New Testament.  Here’s what it says.

Titus 3:4-7 “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 6 He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. 7 Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.”

Let’s look at what God did and why He did it.

 

1. What God did: He saved us 

          “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us.”       When did God reveal His kindness and love?  In Jesus.  It’s in Jesus that we see what God is like, we see His kindness and love.  And what did God do in Jesus?  “He saved us.”  What does that mean?  It means that God rescued us when we couldn’t rescue ourselves. 

ILL: Last Sunday, my daughter Amy and her husband Zac arrived home from Ethiopia with their two new sons, Zealand and Stejer.  It was a wonderful homecoming!  At the airport, Stejer (8 mo.) was wide-awake and smiling; here’s a picture of him and his Mommy at the airport.  He’s just as cute as can be, and sweet and easy—which is a real gift because his brother Zealand is a pistol!  At the airport, Zealand (3 yr.) was out cold; he had screamed for most of the past 5 hours and was totally zonked.  Here’s Zealand and his tired Papa at the airport. Zealand is all-boy, wired loud and busy!  He’s tons of fun, very smart and is already learning English words.  Here’s Zealand doing a little dance with Aunt Sally.  These two boys have been saved.  They have been given a new life, a new family, and a new future. 

          Stejer’s mother relinquished him to the orphanage when he was 5 months old.  We don’t know the story, but most likely she, like so many others in Ethiopia, was simply unable to provide for her son, and rather than see him suffer, she gave him up.  Hard to imagine having to make that choice, isn’t it?  By the way, this is why we encourage everyone to sponsor a child.  Sponsorship provides a safety net for vulnerable children and families so mothers don’t have to make this unthinkable decision.  We have sponsorship packets available at the info center.

          When Zealand was 8 months old, police found him abandoned.  He spent almost 3 years in orphanages before he got a Papa and Mommy. On Monday, Zealand’s first day, he cried every time someone left the house.  For three years, he’s watched adults come and go and never return; it will take him awhile to learn that we’re here to stay.

I want you to imagine an 8 month-old baby abandoned by a roadside.  What does that baby need?  He needs to be saved.  He needs someone to rescue him.  He can’t rescue himself.  Someone else has to do it.  In Zealand’s case, it was the police who came to the rescue, then the orphanages; but ultimately, it will be Zac and Amy who give everything to save him, to provide a home and family and love for this little guy.  They saved him—they adopted him.  He had nothing to do with it.  It was all done for him by his parents.

This is what it means to be saved!  God steps in rescues us when we couldn’t rescue ourselves.  In fact, the Bible even uses adoption as one picture of salvation.

Ephesians 1:5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 

God adopted you into His family; it was entirely His doing; He wanted to do it and it gave Him great pleasure.  He saved you, and has given you a new life, a new family and a new future!

Here’s a picture of the new Franklin family.  Pretty cool, huh?  Now imagine a picture of God’s family—He’s saved a spot for you in the family photo.  He wants to adopt you into His family, give you a new life, a new family and a new future. 

God saved us!  He saved us from ourselves, from our sin, from our rebellion.  And these verses on your outline indicate that He saved us completely, past, present and future.

  • He saved us from the past guilt of our sin by forgiving us completely.

Paul says, “He washed away our sins.”  Your guilt is gone, your past is washed clean; you are forgiven…completely. You can have a clean past because He saved you.

  • He saved us from the present power of sin by sending His Spirit to live in us and change us and help us live new God-centered lives.

Paul says that “He gave us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit”, and that “He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior.”  God not only forgives all our sins, but comes to live in us and empower us to live a new life.  His Spirit gives us the power to change.  You can have a new present because He saved you.

  • He saved us from the future penalty of sin (death) by His own death and resurrection. 

Paul says that “He declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.”  You can have confidence that you will forever.  You can have a new future because He saved you.

          He saved us!  Through Jesus, God adopted us into His family and gave us a new life, a new family, and a new future.  This is what God did when Jesus died and was raised to life.  Why did He do it?

 

2. Why He did it:

          Paul tells us why in Titus 3: not because of our goodness, but because of His mercy and grace.

Titus 3:4-7 “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, 5 he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

 

A. Not because of our goodness.

          God didn’t adopt and save us because of all the righteous things we had done, because we were better than other people or more deserving.  It wasn’t that God looked at you and thought, “Holy smokes, this one is incredible.  I’ve never seen anyone so good!”  It wasn’t because of our goodness.

ILL: Zac and Amy didn’t pick out Zealand and Stejer; they were assigned to them.  They received a referral—“here are the two boys the orphanage picked for you”—and they could accept or reject the referral.  Of course they accepted it, sight unseen, never having laid eyes on either boy.  So it wasn’t because they were the cutest boys (although they are), or the most clever (well, duh!), or the most loveable ever (ok, that too).  It wasn’t because of any of those that they chose them—it was just because…because of their love. 

In the same way, God didn’t choose you because you were cutest, or brightest, or most loveable.  It wasn’t because of our goodness at all; in fact, He saved us in spite of our goodness, or lack thereof …because of His mercy.  Because…

          Back to the story of the father with the two sons—I told you about the one who left home and wasted his dad’s money; what about the other son?  The good son.  The son who stayed home and did everything his father wanted.  Here’s what happened to him.

The father threw a big party for his lost son: music, dancing, the fattened calf and frozen cheesecake. When the older son came in from the fields and learned about this big party for his crummy little brother, he was furious.  He refused to go into the party, pouting outside.  His father had to come find him and invite him to the party.  The older son said:

Luke 15:29-30 “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!”

What’s he saying?  “No fair!”  He was the good boy who slaved for his father and did everything his father asked.  He deserved the party, not his lousy brother.  It was all about his goodness and what he had done, not about the Father’s love.  “I’m the good son!  I deserve everything.” 

          The story ends with the father begging him to come into the party—it ends there; as far as we know, he never did.  He stayed outside, the good son, estranged from his father and his brother.

          Jesus told this story because the Pharisees—some very religious and self-righteous good sons—were upset that Jesus was hanging out with sinners.  The story was a warning to them—and to all of us who are good sons and daughters, good church people.  The warning is: you can be good and be lost.  You can be lost slopping hogs or you can be lost sitting in church.  Sin can keep you from the father; so can self-righteousness.  The bad son ends up home and reconciled to his father; the good son ends up outside the party pouting, estranged from his father.  It’s not because of your goodness.  If you think it’s about your goodness and not the Father’s love, you may miss out on the party!

          Jesus lived a perfect life; He died a sacrificial death; and God raised Him from the dead.  All this to save you—to bring you into God’s family!  Not because of your goodness…

 

B. But because of His mercy and grace

Because of His love.  Because…God loves you more than you can imagine.  I read a great summary of the gospel. 

“We are more flawed than we ever dared to admit; and we’re more loved than we ever dared to imagine.”

Why did God save us?  Not because of our goodness, but because of His mercy, grace and love. 

ILL: Harvey Penick is the author of the book, Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book; over a million copies have been sold, making it the best-selling golf book of all time.

          “In the 1920s Penick bought a red spiral notebook and began jotting down observations about golf. He never showed the book to anyone except his son; until 1991, when he shared it with a local writer and asked if he thought it was worth publishing. The man read it and told him yes. The next evening, he left word with Penick’s wife that Simon & Schuster had agreed to an advance of $90,000.

          When the writer saw Penick later, the old man seemed troubled. Finally, Penick came clean. With all his medical bills, he said, there was no way he could advance Simon & Schuster that much money. The writer had to explain that Penick would be the one to receive the $90,000.”  (From a Reader’s Digest story.)

This is how many of us approach God.  “What must we do to be saved?”  The answer is: just receive.  It’s a gift…not because of your goodness, but because of His mercy.  Because…

          I said earlier that all of us stand on the bridge at some point in our lives and decide which way we’re going.  Are going home, to the Father, or away from Him?  The fact that the bridge is there, that there is a way back home, is a gift from God.  It’s there because of His mercy.

ILL: A few years ago, Rick and Janine and Laina and I were coming back from a meeting in Bend.  We stopped at the Crooked River Gorge just north of Redmond.  It’s a spectacular sight: you are driving across relatively flat land, and suddenly there’s a bridge spanning a 300 foot wide chasm that drops 300 feet straight down.  (Picture…doesn’t do it justice!)  We stopped to look, and Rick and I, being boys, had to spit and throw rocks!  The retaining wall had signs that said “Danger–Cliff.  Control your children and animals.” Laina and Janine tried!  The wall is only about knee-high; if you go over, you’re toast!

          Imagine this scenario: all of us are on one side of the Crooked River Gorge, and God is on the other.  We want to get to God, but there is no way across the gorge.  We’re desperate, so we decide to give it our best shot and get way back so we can get a running start and then jump!  What is the world record for long jump?  It is about 30 feet.  Some of you would get a pretty good jump—15, 20, maybe even 25 feet; and many of us would barely get over the edge; but all of us would end up in the same place: splattered on the bottom.  Our best efforts wouldn’t even come close.  So God, watching us jumping from the other side, decides that He is going to save us, and He builds a bridge.  The bridge is Jesus; He is the way to God.  He is God’s gift to us, a gift of grace.  Now how many of us make it to the other side?  As many of us as trust the bridge and walk across.

          The incredible thing is that there are still some people running and jumping and splatting, all within plain sight of the bridge!  You see, they want to do it on their own.  They say, “The bridge?  That’s too easy!  There’s got to be more to it than that!  Anyone can walk across the bridge!”

Yes they can.  Young or old, good or bad, rich or poor—it doesn’t matter who you are, the bridge is open.  Anyone can walk across the bridge.  God has made a way home for us.  Why did it do it?  Not because of our goodness, but because of His mercy.  Because He loves you more than you ever dared to imagine.  Because…

          Friends, it’s ok to come home. Maybe you are the lost son or daughter in the story, the person who has wandered far from God and wonders if He is willing to take you back. It’s ok to come home.  You have a Father who loves you more than you ever dared to imagine, a Father who is looking for you. 

          Or maybe you’re the good son or daughter, but you’re still outside the party, estranged from your Father. You still think it all depends on you being good enough.  So you try to be good, but you don’t feel close to Him at all.  He saved you, not because of your goodness; but because of His love.  Because… You have a Father who loves you.  It’s ok to come home. 

Anyone can walk across the bridge. Anyone can be adopted into God’s family and be given a new life, a new family, and a new future.  Because of His love.  Because…