Sunday, March 27, 2016

Therefore, Run: An Easter Sermon

Therefore, Run
When Jennifer and I were dating, there would be moments, when she was wanting me to hurry up or stop being distracted in the office supply section in the store, where she would urge me to hurry up and move along. And, at some point, putting on my best Forrest Gump voice, I would yell at her from down the aisle, in an embarrassingly loud voice, “I am running Jenny” and then I would awkwardly run to catch up with her. I have made a habit of doing this kind of thing as we have went along in our marriage, even when I was training for my 5k last year and the year before. Why not? Making a fool of myself is one of my most endearing qualities.

The act of running has an interesting story in Biblical history. I did a word study on the concept this week. For the average Jewish person, running was not behavior that was engaged in for sport or to maintain or build physical health. Sometimes running was done to flee temptation (Joseph), and was often engaged in with military conflict. Running was often used metaphorically for something that was done in haste.
One of my favorite Scriptures says that young men will be able to “run and no be weary”. (Isaiah 40)

Yet, there was a sense, especially by the time of Jesus, that running was often considered undignified. You see, you would be wearing a robe, and in order to run and not trip you would have to pull up your robe and expose your legs, which was considered a little shameful, a little embarrassing. This is one of the things that makes the parable of the Prodigal Son so powerful. At that point in history, if a son was discovered to have squandered his inheritance among the Gentiles, he would be drug in front of the leaders of the community, they would grab a bowl, break it, and tell the young man that he was now cut off from his people for his shameful behavior. Public humiliation. Yet, with the Father’s running to the prodigal, the Father short circuits the shaming of the Son by taking the shame upon himself.

In Christ, God has come running to us. Stooping to us. Taking our shame upon himself, so that we can have a new life, a renewed hope, through placing our faith in him, trusting him with our lives by surrendering our lives to his authority.

Anyway, all of this is helpful to know when we get to resurrection accounts in the Gospel of John. Why? Because everyone is running with the accounts of the resurrection. John 20:2 says that Mary Madgalene runs from the empty tomb to find Peter and John. She tells the men about the empty tomb, and they run as well. John tells us that he got there first, but tells us that Simon Peter goes barreling into the tomb as soon as he gets to the scene. Then they leave. The grave clothes are there, but the body is not? What are they to make of this?

We are left to wonder that too. And part of what we are to make of this event has to do with the response of those first three witnesses of the resurrection: Mary, Peter, and John. When they hear of the open tomb, they cannot help but run. They run from the grave, and they run to it.

Are we to believe that this running would have been shameful? I don’t know. I think what we are to hear is that they simply did not care. This news that Jesus’s tomb was empty, that he may have been risen from the dead, that God has turned the world rightside-up through raising Christ from the dead, this was worth running to, even if they looked goofy, embarrassed or shamed themselves.

Two thousand years from that first Resurrection morning, to empty tomb, my friends, is still worth running to. It is the pivot point in history. The message of new life, of hope, of life after death, of the victory of our conquering King Jesus is still urgent for you, for me, for our friends and our family, and for our world. It still has the power to set prisoners free, to make the broken whole, to reconcile enemies and to bring joy from ashes, and hope from despair. The empty tomb still has the power to change lives. I know, as imperfect as I am, it has and is changing my life.

During Lent, we have been studying Hebrews to immerse ourselves in understand the greatness of Jesus Christ. We have learned over and over again, our need for the Jesus who loved us enough to come to us in human form, to live a perfect life, to die on a cross, to rise again in victory, and to ascend to sit at the right hand of God.
We have contemplated all of this, and now on Easter morning, we are confronted with Hebrews 12, and the “now what?” in light of the resurrection. Jesus has died and risen. He has suffered for us. He has offered us new life. Now what?

The author of Hebrews invites us to get running!

Now, Hebrews is written to Hellenistic Jews. Jews that were not native to all of the national history and customs of the Land of Israel, but folks who had tried to follow the Scriptures in exile spread out all around the ancient world. In the Greek world, athletic competition was common. And one of those competitions had to do with running. Running competitions has ties to military in ancient Greece and Rome.

Marathon, for example, was a messenger who ran from the battle field to announce the victory of the Athenians over the Persians. He came bringing good news. There were no phones or television then of course, so news of battle news was passed on through messengers that relayed the news, running from place to place. These messengers were called evangels when they had positive reports. Thus to be an evangelist is a person relaying good news about a victory that has been won. And evangelical is one who is a person who believes in the good news of victory in Christ, and lives in faith about that good news.

He compares the story of faith among God’s people to a relay race run in full view of all of the people of history. In Hebrews 11, as we looked at last week, the preacher who preached the content of the book of Hebrews gets on a roll. He begins to recount the history of the people of God. They have followed God in faith. Seth. Moses. Abraham. Noah. Isaiah. David. The prophets. The judges. Each ran the race. The lived by faith. Like relay racers, they passed the baton to the next generation. And each generation, one way or another, lived carried on that faith and passed it on to the next generation. Sometimes better. Sometimes worse.

And now, having the benefit of knowing about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the baton is passed to us. And all of the saints that have come before us make up a cloud of witnesses. And that cloud of witnesses shouts to us, in light of the good news we have to live and to share about Jesus Christ, they shout RUN!
RUN!

How are we to run?
The author of Hebrews gives us some very helpful advice of how we are to live, of how we are to run the race, in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

1.    Fix our eyes on Jesus
The resurrection reminds us that our faith is not in religion, or an organization, it is in the leadership of our Lord Jesus Christ. In light of the resurrection we run to him! We fix our eyes upon who Jesus is. We say, because Jesus died for me, I am going to live for him. Our life becomes about loving the way Jesus loved, being strong and bold for truth the way Jesus was, and remembering that Jesus is the standard that we hold everything against. His resurrection proves he is greater than anyone. His resurrection shows that he has power over sin, death, and the evil one. So our focus should be on what he wants us to do, and where he wants us to go. Get focused on Jesus and what is going on around him.

2.   Throw off sin
Jesus died so that you can be victorious. Not so that you could wallow around in sin, and have it tie you up and tie you down. If we have faith that Jesus is risen, that trust then spurs us on to living with a trust that God’s way is better than our way, and that the wisdom of the Word is greater than the wisdom of the world.
If you truly trust, believe in, and love Jesus, your life will be marked by eliminating the self-centered, destructive, sinful life you have left behind. You will begin to trust that God knows what is best for you better than you think you do, and you will begin to eliminate from your life those things that stand in opposition to Christ and your soul.
3.    Throw off anything that gets in the way

In the movie UP!, there is this endearing dog that is devoted to the main characters in the story. Unfortunately, what happens is that the dog is easily distracted. He is puttering along, doing good things, and then he sees a squirrel. And he goes chasing after that squirrel and gets distracted from the things he is meant to do.
In light of the resurrection of Christ, your life is about one thing. Sometimes sin gets in the way. Both other times we are just so easily distracted with a million different things that we are impeded from being the transforming, world-changing, neighbor-reaching, community building people Christ has called us to be. We can be like the dog, that lets the squirrels around us get in the way of truly living a victorious life in Christ.

We get stuck doing things in our lives that keep us from private devotion or worship, or public worship here. We get distracted from the needs of our neighbors with our own business and our cell phones. Sin is always gets in our way of running the race well. But there are good things that can steal our focus too.

4.   Persevere

A life lived trusting God means that we need to persevere. There are times when walking with Christ is just difficult. Maybe we experience a dark night of the soul. Or maybe circumstances steal our motivation to stay faithful to Christ. Remember, at this point, that we are running a race. There are moments that we may want to quit. It is imperitive we don’t. We have a great cloud of witnesses cheering for us. We know through the resurrection that victory is ours. Let us not abandon trusting the Way of Jesus because of temporary discomfort. Persevere!

5.    Endure opposition and hardship
Both from the evil one, and from others around us, running the race of faith is difficult. You will be attacked for doing what Jesus tells you to do. They attacked him too, the author of Hebrews says here, but stand strong. You will endure suffering for doing the right thing. Your kindness will not always be returned. You will be pushed aside. Keep pushing. Keep running. If you are doing anything important, there will be people who will oppose you, who will stand against you, who will seek to drag you down. RUN. KEEP RUNNING.

6.   Consider who you are running to
Run to Jesus. Consider what he went through to win you, and how little you endure in comparison. Consider what Christ did for you, and how much loved you. And then remain faithful, remain loyal to him by believing, trusting, and living for him, under his authority, in obedience to him

7.    Run!
Run to Jesus. Easter shows us the war is won. We still face battles, obstacles, and challenges. But Jesus is our champion. Run with him. Run to him. Run for him. Run to Jesus and live victoriously.
Amen.


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