Pastor Joe Wittwer
When God’s Story Intersects Yours
Part 5—The Story of Jesus
Welcome to Easter at Life Center! We have an Easter greeting that we borrowed years ago from the Eastern Orthodox Church. I say, “Christ is risen!” And you respond, “Christ is risen indeed!” Let’s try it.
Today, I’m going to tell you the story of Jesus. It’s been called “the greatest story ever told.” It’s a story that has changed my life and many of yours, and you’ll hear a few of those stories today too.
Our mission at Life Center is to help people find and follow Jesus. My prayer is that will happen and your life will be changed by Jesus too.
Do you have any other Easter plans this weekend?
Next steps (baptisms, pbj, newcomers meeting, next Sunday)
Video 1: Alicia
Introduction and offering:
Thanks Alicia for sharing your story with us. What a great example of the power of Jesus to change someone’s story…radically!
Before I dive in, the ushers are coming to receive today’s offering. If you are a guest here today, please don’t feel like you have to give anything. For all our Life Center owners, thank you for your generosity—everything that happens in our church happens because of you. Thanks so much.
For the last few weeks, we’ve been telling the story of God and us, as it is told in the Bible. This week we come to the main story, the Big Story, the story of Jesus. It’s my favorite story and I can hardly wait to tell it to you!
Jesus’ story has been called the gospel, a word that means good news. This story is the good news of what God has done for us in Jesus. The gospel is very different from religion. Think of it this way: there is a difference between advice and news. Advice tells you what to do: “here is my advice, do this.” News tells you what happened, what’s already been done. Religion is good advice: here’s what you should do to reach God. The gospel is the good news: here is what God has done to reach you.
Religion is spelled: Do. The gospel is spelled: Done.
Jesus’ story is the gospel. It is good news. God entered our world, became one of us, led a life like no other, gave His live as a sacrifice for us, and rose from the dead. It is the greatest story ever told. And if you believe it, it will change your story forever.
The Big Idea: The Bible is the story of God and us. When God’s story intersects yours, you begin to live a new story.
Here’s the story.
1. The back-story.
The Old Testament
The back-story for Jesus is the whole Old Testament! We’ve covered the big stories from the Old Testament in the last four weeks. And since I have so much to tell you about Jesus today, I’m going to recommend that you listen to those stories—the start of the story, and the stories of Abraham, Moses and David. You’ll find them on our website for free.
The Old Testament contained promises that a descendant of King David would come to rescue God’s people and rule forever. They called him “the Messiah” and by the time of Jesus, the Jews were praying expectantly that He would come soon. It is in this atmosphere that our story begins.
2. The Birth of Jesus.
Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2
Jesus’ birth was like no other.
Mary was a young Jewish woman—probably a teenager—who like everyone else was praying for the Messiah to come. One day, an angel appeared to her and told her that she was going to give birth to the Messiah! You can’t imagine how cool this was! Her prayers—the prayers of the whole nation for centuries—were about to be answered. There was one small problem. She wasn’t married. She was engaged to a young carpenter named Joseph, but they had hardly spoken. The angel assured her that this was no problem for God.
Luke 1:35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
This baby wouldn’t be Joseph’s baby; he would come from God. Mary would still be a virgin when this baby was born. Mary agreed to be part of God’s story—it changed her life forever!
After Mary turned up pregnant, Joseph was going to dump her. But God spoke to Joseph in a dream, and explained what was going on. This baby was from God and would be called Immanuel—God with us. He would be named “Jesus”—which means “God saves” or “God to the rescue”, because He would save us from our sins.
Joseph agreed to be part of God’s story—it changed his life forever too!
Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to comply with a Roman census, and since the inns were full, they took refuge in a stable. There, Mary went into labor, and delivered her baby—a boy, whom they named Jesus.
Born in a barn, and suspected to be conceived out of wedlock—it was an inauspicious start for the Son of God. And it got worse. Joseph and Mary had to take their baby and flee to Egypt to escape King Herod who tried to kill the baby. God’s son was now a homeless refugee living in a foreign land.
Some of us can identify with the rough start to Jesus’ life. Here’s Kylie’s story.
Video #2: Kylie
Thanks Kylie, for sharing your story with us. It’s awesome to see what Jesus has done and is doing with your life!
After a rough start, we know very little about Jesus’ early years. The story picks up steam when he was 30.
3. The Life of Jesus.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
Jesus’ life was like no other. When He spoke, people said, “We’ve never heard anyone speak like this.” When He acted, people said, “He does all things well.” And when they tried to find fault with Him, they couldn’t. This is a life like no other.
The story of Jesus’ adult life begins when he was baptized by John the Baptist. When Jesus was baptized, two amazing things happened.
The Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove and landed on Jesus. And God spoke and said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” After 40 days of testing in the wilderness, Jesus was ready to begin His work.
For the next three years, Jesus would travel through Palestine preaching and teaching, healing and freeing people, and doing miracles. I wish I could tell you all these stories, but I only time for a few.
Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding. The wine ran out. This was a huge deal for the newlyweds. A wedding celebration lasted several days. The bride and groom were treated like royalty. It was probably the best few days of their entire lives. Hospitality was a sacred duty; to run out of an essential, like wine, at a wedding would have been a public disgrace.
ILL: Imagine inviting 200 guests to your wedding and promising a catered dinner at the reception. Everyone sits down for dinner, but there is no food! The caterer didn’t show up. That happened to this couple in Portland, Oregon last fall. Someone ran out and bought 15 pizzas, but by the time they returned, most people had left. The wedding party was ruined.
This is how this young couple on our story felt—their wedding was ruined. Nowadays, we’d run down to 7-11 and buy some cheap wine—problem solved! They didn’t have that option.
So Jesus’ mother asked him to help. He told the servants to fill the six water jugs used for hand washing with water. Each jug held 20-30 gallons, so this meant a lot of work for the servants—a lot of lugging buckets back and forth from the well, wondering, “Why are doing this?” When the jugs were full, Jesus said, “Dip some out and take it to the master of ceremonies.” I’m sure the servants rolled their eyes, but they did it. And the MC said, “Wow! At most weddings they serve the good wine first and save the cheap wine for later, when everyone’s had a lot to drink. But you have saved the best wine for now!”
Jesus saved the party! Jesus cared about an ordinary young couple having a great wedding. I love that about Jesus! And I love that His wine was the best—He does everything well.
Jesus needed to build a team, so He called some young men to follow Him. He chose some pretty unlikely, even unsavory characters. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen—honest hardworking blue-collar guys. Matthew was a tax collector—not so honest, generally hated, and considered a traitor by his fellow Jews. Simon was a Zealot—a right-wing Jewish freedom fighter who would have naturally hated Matthew. Each of these men, and six others, were changed forever after saying yes to Jesus. Their stories were rewritten by Jesus. Next week, we’ll look at one of those stories, the story of Peter. I love that Jesus saw potential in people that others would have overlooked or written off. People like me. Like you.
One day, Jesus and His followers were in a house in Capernaum—it probably was Peter’s house. The house was packed with people listening to Jesus, including some Jewish religious leaders who were there to check Jesus out. Four men came carrying a paralyzed friend on a stretcher. But they couldn’t get to Jesus because the house was too packed. Someone came up with an idea. These houses had flat roofs constructed of timbers covered with sticks and straw topped with mud. Grass actually grew on the roofs, and people would go up a ladder and relax on their roof, like you might on your deck.
So these four guys hauled their paralyzed friend up on the roof, and started digging a hole in the roof. Imagine the scene inside. Dirt and straw start falling through the hole. Peter starts shouting, “Dude, what are you doing to my roof?” People start laughing, including Jesus. Finally, the hole is big enough to lower their friend down. I think the hole was probably just big enough to lower him vertically, not horizontally; so they would have sent him down feet first. “Hi! Nice to see you! Shalom!” The people inside carefully helped lay him down, and then looked up in the hole in the roof to see this: four expectant faces framed against the sky.
Jesus said, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” The Jewish religious leaders thought, “Who does He think He is? Only God can forgive someone’s sins!” And the four friends were thinking, “Forget about his sins! Fix his legs! He can’t walk, for Pete’s sake.” And Peter was thinking, “Who’s going to fix my roof?”
Knowing what they were thinking, Jesus asked the religious leaders, “Is it easier to say to a paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up and walk’?” Obviously, it is easier to say that your sins are forgiven, because no one can actually verify it. But if you tell a paralyzed man to walk, you can see if it happens or not.
Then Jesus said, “So that you may know that I have authority to forgive sins,” he turned and said to the paralytic, “Get up and walk!” And he did! Jesus showed that He not only had the power to heal this man, but also the authority to forgive his sins—authority that belongs to God alone. Everyone was amazed and said, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”
I love that Jesus cared about this man—the whole man. It wasn’t enough just to fix his legs; Jesus healed his heart too, forgiving his sins and freeing him from all his baggage. Jesus cares that same way for you—every part of you. There is nothing about you that He doesn’t know and care about.
Not long after this, Jesus said to his men, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake.” They got in a small sailboat and headed across Lake Galilee, and Jesus soon fell fast asleep in the stern. But a storm suddenly blew up, and the waves began swamping the boat. The disciples were bailing for all they were worth, but weren’t keeping up. Even the fishermen who were accomplished sailors were scared. And Jesus was still sleeping through the whole thing!
The men finally shook Jesus awake. “Don’t you care that we’re about to die?” Jesus stood up and said, “Silence! Be still!” And the wind stopped, and waves calmed. Jesus turned to His men. “Why were you so afraid? Where was your faith?” What’s faith got to do with it? Everything! Jesus said that they were going to the other side—did they believe Him? And did they really think that God would let His Son die in a boating accident. Can you imagine the angel reporting in heaven: “God, sorry about this, but we lost Jesus today—drowned in a boating accident on the lake.” And God says, “Dang! I hate it when that happens!” Unlikely! Jesus knew He was in God’s hands, so He could sleep through a storm. I love that about Jesus—He trusted God totally.
The storm was scary, but this was terrifying! They said, “Who is this man? Even the wind and waves obey Him!”
And that is the Big Question. Who is this man who saves wedding parties and forgives sins, heals the sick and calms storms? Who is this man?
Jesus often upset the Jewish religious leaders because He didn’t play by their rules. For example, one day Jesus was at the synagogue service. There was a man there with a withered hand. The religious leaders were watching Jesus to see if He would heal the man on the Sabbath. God had said that His people weren’t to work on the Sabbath; they were to rest. But these religious leaders had turned this day of rest into a web of legalism. They defined work and broke it down into thousands of tiny rules. For example, you couldn’t wear false teeth on the Sabbath, for you were carrying something—that was work. They thought that Jesus healing someone on the Sabbath would be work, and He couldn’t be from God if He violated the Sabbath rules. They put their rules before this man’s welfare.
This ticked Jesus off! He asked them, “Does the law permit doing good on the Sabbath? If your child fell in a well, would you fish him out? If your donkey needed water, would you untie him and take him to the trough? Of course you would!”
Then Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And when he did, it was healed! I like to avoid confrontation, so I might have told the guy to meet me out back after the service. But Jesus called them all out because there was an important truth at stake. It’s always the right time to help someone! People matter to God—they are God’s Big Deal!
I love that Jesus always kept the main thing the main thing. He never majored on minors, never got caught up in legalistic nit-picking. He loved God and He loved people.
In fact, once He was asked, “What’s the most important of all the commandments?” This was a common debate among the Jews, who counted 613 commandments in God’s law, and wanted to know what was most important.
Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength—love God with all you’ve got. This is first and most important.” Then He added, “The second is to love your neighbor as yourself. All the rest of God’s law is summed up in these two commands.”
Love God and love people—that’s the main thing. Jesus did it. He always kept the main thing the main thing.
One time, some of these religious leaders, wanting to trap Jesus, approached Him while He was teaching in the temple. They drug in a lady that they had caught in the act of adultery, and stood her before Jesus. “The law says we should stone her to death. What do you say we should do with her?”
Here’s the trap. If Jesus said, “Stone her,” they would report Him to the Roman rulers who had forbidden the Jews to use the death penalty (they reserved that power for themselves). If Jesus said, “Let her go,” they would accuse Him of ignoring God’s law. It was a no-win proposition.
Jesus bent down and wrote in the dust with his finger. It doesn’t say what He wrote. Maybe it was the other laws that these men had broken; or maybe the names of the men who had broken this law. I think that because of what Jesus did next. After a few minutes, Jesus looked up and said, “All right; but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” Then He started writing again.
One by one, beginning with the oldest, they dropped their rocks and walked away. Finally, it was just this poor woman and Jesus there in the middle of the crowd. Jesus looked her in the eye. “Maam, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, Lord.”
“Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Don’t you love Jesus? She deserved judgment; she received mercy. I deserve God’s judgment too, and in Jesus I receive God’s mercy. I’m so grateful! I want you to hear Jesus say to you today, “I don’t condemn you; I forgive you. Go and sin no more.”
Don’t you love Jesus?
Not everyone did. The religious leaders hated Him, and the Romans feared Him. And together they decided that they needed to stop Him. But they needed help; they needed an inside man…a traitor. They found their man in Judas, who offered to lead them to Jesus at a time and place away from the crowds. For his treachery, Judas was paid 30 pieces of silver.
And so the stage was set for the next part of the story: the death of Jesus. First, I want you see Graham’s story.
Video #3: Graham
Thanks Graham for sharing your story with us. Shocking! I love all the different ways that people meet Jesus, don’t you!
Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, John 13-19
Jesus’ death was like no other.
For months He had been warning His men that He was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. To them, this was incomprehensible. How could the Messiah, God’s Son, suffer and die on a cross? Unthinkable. They ignored these warnings. But that final week in Jerusalem, they could all feel the storm gathering, the tension building.
On Thursday night, they gathered to share a meal together—known to us as the last supper. Normally, a servant would wash each person’s feet as they arrived. The basin of water and towel were there, but there was no servant—just Jesus and His men. They argued about who should do the foot washing—it was considered a demeaning job. What was the pecking order: who was the greatest and who was the least?
They had argued about this before, and Jesus had told them that the greatest would be the servant of all. “For I came not to be served, but serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” They had missed it—the fact that they were to serve, and that Jesus would give His life to rescue them and us. So here they are on the final night of Jesus’ life, still arguing about who was the greatest.
While they argued, Jesus quietly got up, put the towel over his arm and knelt with the basin of water before the first man. It suddenly got very quiet. They sat in embarrassed silence as Jesus carefully washed and dried each man’s feet. The silence was finally broken by Peter.
“Lord, I can’t let you wash my feet.”
“Unless I wash you, Peter, you won’t belong to me.”
“Then Lord, not just my feet—wash all of me!”
Jesus smiled. “You don’t a need a bath, Peter; I’ll wash your feet and you’ll be clean. But not everyone here is clean.”
Jesus said this because He knew who would betray him. And He washed Judas’ feet too. I wonder what look passed between them as Jesus did this—if this wasn’t an appeal: “Judas, you don’t have to do this.”
Later, as they sat down for dinner, Jesus announced, “One of you will betray me.” When they all asked, “Is it me?” Jesus indicated it was Judas. And he slipped out into the dark.
Then Jesus took bread and broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body, given for you. Do this to remember me.” Then He took the cup and gave thanks and offered it to them saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this to remember me.”
Jesus made it clear that He wasn’t a martyr, that no one was taking His life from Him. He was giving it. He was pouring it out as a ransom. He was not a victim; He was a sacrifice.
They went to a nearby grove of olive trees called Gethsemane, a place that Jesus often went to pray. There He prayed, “Papa, Father, if you will, take this cup from me. Yet, not my will, but yours be done.”
Judas arrived in the garden in the dark of night with a mob from the chief priest to arrest Jesus. Judas had arranged a signal: “The man I kiss is Jesus. Arrest him.” So Judas embraced Jesus and greeted him with the kiss of friendship—it was the kiss of betrayal and death.
They arrested Jesus and took Him away to the chief priest for a trial. Jesus’ men all fled in the night. At the Jewish trial, they found Jesus guilty of blasphemy, but they had no power to execute Him. They needed the Romans for that. So they took Him before the Romans with accusations of sedition, stirring up rebellion against Rome. In another sham trial, Jesus was condemned to die.
First they beat Him to within an inch of His life. They used a whip called a cat-of-nine-tails; it had nine leather thongs each tipped with a piece of metal. An expert could strip the skin and flesh off a man’s back. Many didn’t survive the flogging; Jesus did. Then they laid a rough wooden beam across His lacerated back and forced Him to carry it to the place of His execution, a hill outside of town called Golgotha. There, they crucified Him.
Crucifixion was one of the most cruel, painful and humiliating forms of execution ever devised. Some people hung in misery on a cross for 2 or 3 days before dying. Jesus, already whipped and beaten, died in six hours. And as He died, He shouted, “Tetelesthai!” which means, “It is finished!” Or, “It is paid in full.” He had done it. He had given His life as a ransom to free and redeem all of us.
But to His followers, it looked like the end. The end of their hopes and dreams that Jesus was their Messiah. They took Him off the cross and buried Him, and went home. It was over.
And normally it would be. Usually, dead people stay dead. But not this time!
Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21
Jesus died and was buried on Friday. On Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, His followers stayed home as required on the Sabbath. On Sunday morning, some ladies went to the tomb to care for His body, but the stone that covered the mouth of the tomb was moved and the Jesus’ body was gone. They were distraught; they assumed that someone had stolen or moved the body.
Later, they were together in a locked room (they were still hoping not to be arrested and executed themselves) when Jesus appeared. It scared the bejeebers out of them. So the first thing Jesus said was, “Peace.” He showed them His hands and feet. “Touch Me. It’s really Me!” Then they were overjoyed! Can you imagine how they felt? “Jesus is alive!”
For the next 40 days, Jesus appeared to them in many places, giving them many convincing proofs that He was alive, and teaching them about the Kingdom of God. Then it was time to go. Before He left, Jesus told them two very important things.
First, He gave them a mission. “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” Take this life-changing story everywhere and tell everyone the good news!
Second, He promised them power. “Wait in Jerusalem for the promise I gave you. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses, here, near and far…to the ends of the earth.”
Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9
Jesus left this world like no one else. In the sight of His disciples, he ascended to heaven where He sits at the right hand of God. And one day, He will come again for all of us who love Him.
That’s the Jesus story.
I love Jesus. He changed my life, and continues to change it day by day. I’ve wondered, “Where would I be without Jesus?” My story would be very different—nothing like the wonderful story I’m living. And I wouldn’t have the eternal hope that I have—that the best is yet to come! Jesus has changed my story, and He’s able to change yours too.
How about you? Where would you be without Jesus? Have you let Him begin to change your story?