Second Reformed Church

Sunday, March 31, 2013

"Are You Looking for the Living or the Dead?" Sermon: Luke 24:1-12

“Are You Looking for the Living or the Dead?”

[Luke 24:1-12]

March 31, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            Jesus had to be buried quickly.  (Jews understand days as going from sunset to sunset, not sunrise to sunrise, like Westerners do.)  The sun was setting.  It was Friday night.  Jesus would have to remain in the grave until Sunday when they could fully prepare Him for burial.  They took Him to Joseph’s grave – generously donated – and they lay Him in it.

            The Sanhedrin – the ruling Jews – were concerned that Jesus’ body would be stolen – there was a rumor going around that Jesus would rise from the dead.  They were not going to allow any to believe that nonsense.  They asked Pilate to have a stone rolled in front of the grave and have wax poured on it to seal it and to have him press his ring into the wax, so it would be a crime to break the seal.  And they asked Pilate for a guard to be placed at the tomb.  Pilate acquiesced:  the stone was rolled in place, wax sealed the stone, his ring marked the wax, and he posted a minimum of sixteen centurions – possibly many more – to guard the tomb.

            They kept the Sabbath, and while the apostles were hiding, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Salome, Joanna, and a number of other women made their way to Jesus’ tomb to finish the embalming preparations – it was early morning of the first day of the week – Sunday.  They carried with them the spices they had prepared to anoint Jesus’ body.

            When they arrived at the tomb, Pilate’s seal was broken, the stone was rolled up and out of the way, and the centurions were either gone or lying on the ground – passed out.  So they went into the tomb and looked around.  They found the burial clothes, but the body of the Lord Jesus was gone.

            They began to discuss what could have happened – who could have moved the stone – who could have removed the guards – who could have taken Jesus’ body.  They just wanted to anoint His body for burial – so He would be buried appropriately.  Jesus was dead.  Mary’s Son was dead.  Their rabbi was dead.  Their Savior was dead.  Why had someone taken His body?

            Suddenly, two men appeared – they were angels in human form – and their clothes were blindingly white.  So the women fell on their faces, being frightened – and they waited for what would happen.

            And the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

            Today is Easter Sunday – why are you here?  We ought to ask ourselves that every Sunday when we come to worship, but, especially today, as we emphasize the historical event of the first Easter – early that first Easter Sunday morning.

            This is Resurrection Sunday – that is, it is socially acceptable to believe in the resurrection whatever you personally chose to believe that means day as long as you don’t offend anyone and especially not me.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

What happened to Jesus’ body?  Does it matter?

“No, what matters is that we remember that Jesus is one of many great teachers who leads us to everlasting peace.”

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV).

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30, ESV).

“What really matters is that we live out the spirit of love of Jesus and follow His moral teaching.”

Jesus said, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23:13-36, ESV).

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30, ESV).

This kind of thinking is looking for the living among the dead – it makes no sense.  We can’t say Jesus was one of many great teachers Who leads to everlasting peace, because He said He is the Only Way to God.  And we can’t just say Jesus was a loving teacher and to follow His moral teachings, because Jesus had some very harsh things to say.  And I would hope none of us would give our children or grandchildren a knife and tell them, “Have a good day, honey, and remember, if anything causes you to sin, cut it off.”

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

If you’re looking for some kind of truth or great way of living from Jesus, but believe that Jesus is dead – just give it up.  It doesn’t work.  What Jesus did and said is meaningless if He is dead – no, it’s worse than meaningless – it is a lie.

Paul explains this to the Corinthians – some of whom were saying there was no resurrection from the dead – they were looking for the living among the dead – they were trying to make something of Jesus, but deny the resurrection.

“Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, ESV).

Do you get Paul’s argument?

If you are preaching that Jesus is risen from the dead, how can you say there is no resurrection from the dead?

If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.

If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, our preaching has no value.

Worse – if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, our faith has no value.

Even worse – if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we have been lying about God.

And we are still dead in our sins, damned, and of all people most to be pitied.

That’s what you’re left with if you have been seeking the living among the dead – if you have been satisfied with something less than a physically risen Jesus – if you have looked to Christianity to be about being a good and loving person.  If that’s where you are, you are stuck in the tomb and there is no way out – because the living do not abide with the dead.

The angels said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  That could only mean one thing – Jesus is alive.  And so you don’t get confused and think, “Well, good thing they came back, they almost buried a live man – Jesus must have just fainted from being tortured and crucified – happens all the time.”  No!  The angels said, “He is not here, but has risen.”  Jesus was dead, but now He is alive.  Jesus did die on the cross, but a resurrection occurred, and Jesus is alive again – that’s why He’s not in the tomb.

So we go back to Paul’s argument:

If you are preaching that Jesus is risen from the dead, we must believe that there is a resurrection from the dead.

If there is a resurrection from the dead, then Jesus did rise from the dead.

If Jesus did rise from the dead, our preaching is of great value.

Better – if Jesus did rise from the dead, our faith has great value.

Even better – if Jesus did rise from the dead, we have been telling the truth about God.

And we are alive – having been forgiven of sins and of all people most to be joy-filled.

Are you seeking the living among the dead?  Or are you seeking life among the living?

The very reason we gather together – every Sunday to worship – not just Easter – is because Jesus was stone cold dead and He stood up – resurrected – alive – and walked out of the tomb.  If that is not true, then this is all bad for you.  But if it’s true, then this is the greatest news there is – and this news – the Gospel – is what the Church should be about.  Whatever else we may do, we are to be about reading the Bible, teaching the Bible, and preaching the Bible.  Where is your Bible this morning?  Did you have to dust it off?  What was the last thing you read in it?

The women had gone to look for a dead man, but He wasn’t there.  The angels told them that Jesus was alive – look for Him among the living!  “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”

Multiple times, Jesus told His disciples that this was the way He would bring salvation:

“Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ And they answered, ‘John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.’ Then he said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ And Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’

“And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised’” (Luke 9:18-22, ESV).

“For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation” (Luke 17:24-25, ESV).

“And he said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer’” (Luke 22:15, ESV).

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26, ESV).

“Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:45-47, ESV).

“And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”

The women return to the apostles and all the other men who were hiding, but they didn’t believe them – they were still looking for the dead – they thought the living – Jesus – should be with the dead.  They still did not understand what Jesus said about this being absolutely necessary for salvation:  if the Incarnate God did not suffer and die for the sins of everyone who would ever believe, we could not be forgiven.  And if the Incarnate God did not physically rise from the dead in His body, then we would not have His righteousness – His perfect keeping of the Law – credited to our accounts, and the whole of His Work would not be proven victorious.  If Jesus remained dead in the ground – at best, His Work would be half done.

But Jesus did physically rise from the dead in His body – the angels told the women, and the women told the men who were hiding, but they didn’t believe them, because they were women.

What excuses have you heard not to believe?  How many people have you told that the Living is not among the dead, only to have them laugh in your face?  Tell them again.  If you believe that Jesus has risen, tell them again.

And if you are the one who doesn’t believe, have you considered them evidence?  Where is His body?  The tomb was well-guarded; His body wasn’t stolen.  He stood up – alive – and walked out of the tomb.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?”

“But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”

Are you marveling this morning?  If you are not, I charge you to seriously consider why not, and to consider if you believe that Jesus is not among the dead, but among the living.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, it is sometimes difficult for us to believe that the dead can rise from the dead in their bodies.  Help us to believe and to see that our whole faith and hope is based on the Resurrection.  Keep us from believing that Jesus is dead and from believing that following His teachings is enough.  Show us how that does not make sense at all.  Help us to open our mouths and be prepared with words to say the Jesus is risen in His body, and therein lies the truth of what we believe.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

"The Judgment of Pilate" Sermon: John 18:33-19:16a

“The Judgment of Pilate”

[John 18:33-19:16a]

March 29, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            What do we know about Pontius Pilate?  The answer is – surprisingly little.

            We know nothing of his early years.  He was appointed to be prefect – governor – of Judea by Tiberius Caesar in 26 A.D.  Historians indicate that Pilate went out of his way to offend Jewish customs and religion, and many historians say he had a vindictive and furious temper.

            Pilate is best known for crucifying a Jewish rabbi somewhere between 30 and 33 A.D. – which is what our text concerns tonight.

            Second to this event was Pilate’s reaction to a large group of armed Samaritans climbing Mount Gerizim to view relics of Moses.  It is not at all clear as to whether Pilate set them up, or whether someone else set them up, or whether the Samaritans just believed such relics existed there.  But Pilate chose to marshal his forces and slaughter them in a preventative strike.  This event was so anger-provoking, that Pilate was recalled to Rome by Tiberius in 36 A.D.  What happened to him after that is unknown.

            What is better known is the job description of a Roman governor of an occupied land – like Israel.  Pilate had two jobs:  he was to handle judicial matters – for which he was judge and jury, and he was to collect taxes for Rome.

            After Jesus was betrayed by Judas and turned over to the Sanhedrin – the ruling Pharisees and Sadducees – they sought a way to get rid of Him – permanently.  However, under Roman occupation, they were not allowed to enforce the law by capital punishment – they had to go to the Romans if they wanted to have someone put to death.  The problem with Jesus was they wanted to put Him to death for blasphemy – for claiming He was God – and the Romans wouldn’t have cared about that charge – they had to come up with something else.  And so they came up with charges of trying to overthrow the government and dissuade people from paying their taxes.  Those charges would get the attention of Rome.  And so, they delivered Jesus to Pilate to be judged.

            “So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?’ Pilate answered, ‘Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?’ Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’ Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’ Pilate said to him, ‘What is truth?’

            “After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, ‘I find no guilt in him.’”

            Pilate’s job, once charges had been made, was to investigate the charge and rule on it.  And so, Pilate began his interrogation by asking Jesus if He was the King of the Jews.  Pilate asked Jesus if it was His intention to overthrow the government.  And Jesus asked him what evidence he had against Him.  To which Pilate effectively answered, “It’s your own people who have brought You here and charged You.  Tell me what You have done wrong?”  Pilate demands that Jesus defend Himself, because Roman law was “guilty until proven innocent.”

            Jesus told Pilate that He was a king, but a king of another world.  If He was king of this world or wanted to be king of this world, He supporters would have taken up arms to free Him.  And Pilate questions Him again, “So You are a king?”  And Jesus tells him, yes, He is a king.  And the purpose of His birth was to bear witness to the truth – everyone who believes in the truth follows Him.  And then we have one of the most famous lines of the Bible, “What is truth?”

            How did Pilate ask the question?  Was he sincerely asking Jesus for an answer?  Was he wistfully wishing there were such a thing?  Or was he responding with sarcasm – or dismissing Jesus and His claim of the truth?  We don’t know.  It seems more likely, given what little we know about Pilate that he was responding in the latter way:  What is truth?

            Pilate had enough.  Jesus claimed to be the king of another planet Who knew the truth – hardly an offense to Rome.  Pilate came out before the crowd and gave his judgment:  “I find no guilt in Him.”

            Pilate’s judgment was “not guilty.”

            Even so, Pilate was not a fool – he had the religious leaders stirring up the crowd that something would happen, and he thought of a way to appease them:

“‘But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?’ They cried out again, ‘Not this man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber.’”

Luke tells us more:  Barabbas was a robber, yes, but he was also a mass murderer – Barabbas was a terrorist.  R. C. Sproul points out that Pilate was trying to set this choice up so Jesus would be set free.  It was as if Pilate offered us, today, the choice of the release of Osama Bin Laden or Jesus.  The answer was easy – no one would choose a terrorist over Jesus – no matter what problems you may have had with Him, right?

The people chose to free Barabbas – the terrorist – and not Jesus.  Pilate must have been stunned.  Perhaps, he thought, “they are so mad at Jesus that they want to see some blood spilt – so I will flog Him.” 

A point of Roman law:  it was illegal to flog someone until he had been found guilty.

Flogging was done with a whip with many tails – and there were three different types of whips, but the historians of the day describe this as the most severe whip – based on what they saw and what it did.  The whips had numerous tails, and those tails were embedded with pieces of glass and metal and sharp rocks.  Jesus was whipped the maximum number of times by law – thirty-nine lashes – and the historians of the day report that by the time they finished, there was not a spot on Jesus’ body that was not torn, bruised, or bloodied.

And Pilate allowed the soldiers to humiliate Him:  he allowed them – after the flogging – to make a crown of thorns and press it down into His head.  These were not the little thorns like the thorns on our little crown.  Scholars differ, but say the thorns were somewhere between three and twelve inches long – depending on what plant they took them from.  The crown would not have been placed on His head, but pushed and beaten down on His head, so the thorns would tear into Him.

And they continued by dressing Him in a purple robe – mocking Him as King.  Mockingly calling to Him, and punching Him in the face.

            “Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, ‘See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.’ So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’”

            Pilate brought the bloodied, beaten, mocked Jesus out before the crowd again.  Surely, He was more dead than alive after being up all night, being flogged to the fullest extent of the law, having a crown of thorns beaten into His brow, and having the soldiers mock Him and beat Him.

            And Pilate announced for a second time, “I find no guilt in Him.”

            And Pilate spoke another famous line, “Behold the man!”  “Look at Him.  He has been beaten almost to death.  He has been mocked.  He is nothing.  He is nothing to fear.  Why do you let Him upset You?  What danger could He be to you?  Look at Him now.”

The judgment of Pilate was that Jesus was “not guilty.”

But the crowd would have none of it:

“When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’”

Incredulously, the Jews still clamored for Jesus to be crucified.  So out of frustration and disgust, Pilate told them to take Jesus and crucify Him themselves – he would have nothing to do with it.  But he knew that they couldn’t do that – it was against the law.

Still, Pilate announced for a third time, “I find no guilt in Him.”

The judgment of Pilate was that Jesus was “not guilty.”

 “The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’”

The Jews finally admitted why they had brought Jesus to Pilate.  Jesus claimed to be God – and they would not tolerate Him as God.  Without examining a whit of evidence, they had condemned Jesus as a blasphemer, and they wanted Him put to death as a blasphemer – He had claimed to be God!

 “When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.”

Why was Pilate afraid?  It could be that he was getting more concerning about the volatility of the crowd, but considering what Pilate does, Calvin and R.C. Sproul suggest that Pilate had just become afraid of Jesus.

The Romans believed that gods came to earth from time to time and took part and interfered in our history – so it was possible that Jesus really was a god – and if Jesus was a god, and the Jews were clamoring for Pilate to crucify Him – that could result in all kinds of horrible things for Pilate’s future.  He was afraid of committing sacrilege.  He probably also thought about what he had already done – if Jesus was a god, and he had had Him scourged and beaten, how might He take revenge on Pilate?

“He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer.”

“Jesus – where are You from?  Are you a god?  Or are You a mere man?”  To Pilate’s extreme frustration, Jesus said nothing.

“So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.’”

So Pilate lost it with Jesus:  “Jesus.  Whoever or whatever You are – don’t You understand, I am Your only hope.  I am judge and jury.  If You would just reveal Yourself to me – give me some argument that I can use against the crowd, I will let You go, but if You don’t, I will have to send You to be crucified.  Don’t You understand, Your life is in my hands?”

Jesus responded, “The only reason My life is in your hands is that you have been given the authority to pass judgment on Me here.  The only reason you have authority over Me is because God gave you the authority – you were chosen for this very purpose.  Although the rest of your life will be all but forgotten, everyone on earth will know that I “suffer under Pontius Pilate” – you will be remembered forever for what occurred here today.   Yet, the ones who brought me to you committed the greater sin.”

Pilate was scared all the more.  He wanted nothing more to do with Jesus.  Whoever or whatever He was – Pilate just wanted Him out of his court.

            “From then on Pilate sought to release him,”

            From then on – and we don’t know how long he argued with the religious leaders and the crowd, but Pilate kept arguing with them, that he found no guilt in Jesus.  His ruling, according to his position as governor, was that Jesus was “not guilty.”  What else could he do?  What else did they want for which he could let Jesus go and not be haunted by Him?

“but the Jews cried out, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.’ So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour.”

The Jews pulled out their “ace” – they told Pilate that if he did not crucify Jesus, he was not a “friend of Caesar.”  The expression “friend of Caesar” indicated that you were loyal to Caesar.  If you were found not to be a “friend of Caesar,” you were found to be a traitor – it was an actionable crime.  If Pilate did not crucify Jesus, they would inform Caesar that Pilate was a traitor to Rome – they would have argued that Pilate freed a terrorist – someone who sought to overthrown the crown – someone who sought to be king instead of Caesar.  It would have likely meant Pilate’s own crucifixion.

Pilate had nothing left.  He brought Jesus forward, and Pilate crumpled down in the judgment seat.

 “He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’”

Pilate was disgusted with the Jews – disgusted with the situation he was in – so he now mocked the Jews – he spoke with irony. “Behold you King!”  Pilate sat in the judgment seat as he would to deliver his verdict, and he cast dispersions on the Jews:  “You brought this Man to me because He does not suit your interpretation of your religion.  You brought Him to me because you wanted Him dead, not because the charge merited Roman justice.  So, here He is – for you – your King!”  Pilate didn’t know how true his words were:  Jesus is indeed King of the Jews, King of the Gentiles, King of heaven and earth.

And Pilate asked them one last time – after fighting to declare Jesus “not guilty” and set Him free – “Shall I crucify your king?”

And the chief priests answered with the most pathetic and damning answer, “We have no king but Caesar.”

Calvin comments, “This is a display of shocking madness, that the priests, who ought to have been well acquainted with the Law, reject Christ, in whom the salvation of the people was wholly contained, on whom all the promises depended, and on whom the whole of their religion was founded; and, indeed, by rejecting Christ, they deprive themselves of the grace of God and of every blessing. We see, then, what insanity had seized them. Let us suppose that Jesus Christ was not the Christ; still they have no excuse for acknowledging no other king but Caesar. For, first, they revolt from the spiritual kingdom of God; and, secondly, they prefer the tyranny of the Roman Empire, which they greatly abhorred, to a just government, such as God had promised to them. Thus wicked men, in order to fly from Christ, not only deprive themselves of eternal life, but draw down on their heads every kind of miseries. On the other hand, the sole happiness of the godly is, to be subject to the royal authority of Christ, whether, according to the flesh, they are placed under a just and lawful government, under the oppression of tyrants” [Calvin’s Commentaries].

 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

            How shall we judge Pilate?  Did he do enough?  Did he judge fairly?  Did he judge well?  Did he consider the facts of the matter?  How might he fair on the Day of Judgment?  Would you have done better on the judgment seat?

            How do you answer, this evening, to the cry, “Behold your King!”?

            Do you reject Him in the hopes of someone else?

            Do you reject Him for a human king or government?

            Or do you submit yourself – and all that your are – to His Sovereign Rule – knowing that there is no better place to be, and He Alone makes you right with God through His Work on earth?

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, You sent Your Son to be the Way back to You for all those who would believe.  As we look at what He endured at the hands of sinful men, we are horrified and agape and we wonder how this could happen.  Yet, Your Word tells us that we were all the same, so we know we would have reacted the same way.  Help us to live holy lives now and submit to Jesus as our King.  For it is in Jesus’’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Worship

Join us this evening at 7 PM for our Good Friday worship service -- we hope to see you then!

"The Misery of Hell" Sermon: Luke 16:19-31

“The Misery of Hell”

[Luke 16:19-31]

March 28, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            Some of us will be familiar with the book, Love Wins, recently written by Rob Bell, pastor of a mega-church.  Bell argues that there is a heaven and a hell, but those who go to hell only go there temporarily – the love of God, he argues, is so strong, that it pursues people after death and continues to pursue until every person believes and is received into heaven.  This is not what the Bible teaches.

            Jesus speaks in our text in response to the ridicule of the Pharisees, who Luke tells us, “were lovers of money” (Luke 16:14b, ESV).  The Pharisees, who knew the words of the Law and the Prophets very well, were not bearing fruits of repentance and belief, but were seeking to increase their financial standing. 

For those of you who worship with us in the morning, you may remember, we recently discussed the fact that our fruits – doing those things which God has called us to do – are a proof that we have been saved – that we are believers in Jesus for salvation.  The Pharisees said they believed the Law and the Prophets, but they did not bear fruit – they did not evidence their belief, so there was no reason to believe they actually believed – that they had been saved by God. 

Remember, we are not saved by our works, but our works evidence that we have been saved.  If we do not do good works in the Name of Jesus, then there is no reason to believe our confession that we believe in His Gospel.

So, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, who think that knowing all the right words is enough for them to be considered righteous – that they can do whatever they want, so long as they show up for worship and say the things expected of them.  They thought salvation was based on their knowing the right words, not on having a change of heart and a life that evidenced such a change.

And Jesus tells them the history of a certain rich man – perhaps a Pharisee – and a beggar named Lazarus:

            “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.”

            Note that the rich man had everything he needed and more.  He was not just clothed and housed, but extravagantly so.  He did not just eat what he needed to live, but he ate the most expensive, extravagant food available, because he could.  Now, there is nothing wrong with being wealthy or enjoying the blessings God has given on earth.  But this rich man was enjoying them as though he deserved them and had no responsibility to those in need.

            Lazarus lived on the streets and camped outside the gates of the rich man.  We are not told how he came to be in that condition.  But he was humbled by it:  he did not ask to be brought into the rich man’s house or even to have food brought to him, but he desired that the food which fell to the floor, which would have been for the dogs, could have been shared with him so he could have something.  And notice, the dogs, indeed, had more compassion on Lazarus than the rich man – the rich man ignored Lazarus’ state, while the dogs licked his wounds and provided him with some relief and companionship and mercy.

            Those who claim to believe in the Gospel ought to care for others and show that care.  Can you and I do more than the dogs?  Can we bear fruit of our belief by providing for another’s needs or cleaning and bandaging another’s wounds?  Have we fallen into the same sin by swarming around those who seem to have something to give to us and neglecting the creepy, weird person next to us?

            The rich and the poor alike die:  “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades,”

            After death, the poor man was carried by the angels and received among the people of God at Abraham’s side, waiting for the final judgment and entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Whereas the rich man went to Hades to wait for the final judgment and entrance into everlasting punishment.

            Understand, the rich man did not go to Hades because he was rich, and Lazarus did not go to Abraham’s side because he was poor.  There are both rich and poor waiting in Hades and rich and poor waiting at Abraham’s side – Abraham, for example, was financially rich.  Your financial standing does not secure where you will go.  This example is chosen because the Pharisees, like this rich man, knew all the right words, but did not bear fruit which would prove that they truly believed.  The Pharisees, like this rich man, thought that knowing the words would be enough, but the rich man went to Hades, and they would too, if they did not truly believe and bear fruit based on that belief.

            Notice, also, that Abraham’s side is not the Kingdom of Heaven and Hades is not Hell.  Abraham’s side and Hades are equivalent with the Old Testament term, “Sheol,” which is “the underworld; a place of waiting for judgment.”  It is after the judgment, as we have seen in past weeks, that persons enter the Kingdom of Heaven or Hell.  (If you are interested, D.V., we will begin a study on the doctrine of Hell on Tuesday, April 9th.)

            So, the rich man was in Hades, awaiting the Day of Judgment, and “being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’”

            Hades, though it is an intermediary state, is not merely a waiting room, but for those who are damned, it is a place of intense suffering, as the rich man explains.  He was suffering in his physical body and he desired relief.  The rich man said he was in anguish in his physical body.

            And the rich man is calling on Abraham as his father – the rich man has not understood – even yet – that Abraham is not his father, otherwise he would not be in Hades.  Abraham is the father of all those who believe in the Savior, and the rich man did not believe, so he was in great anguish and torment.

“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’”

Contrary to what Mr. Bell is teaching, it is not possible to pass from one enteral state to another.  Once you die, those who are bound for the Kingdom of Heaven and those who are bound for Hell are separated by a vast chasm that cannot be crossed.

Also, notice, the rich man did not seek to be forgiven – he did not profess belief – he just wanted to minimize his suffering.  And he knew Lazarus – prior to this request, we might have believed that Lazarus was outside the rich man’s gate, but he never came in cometact with him – but, no, the rich man knew Lazarus, and he had sinned against him in life by not showing mercy.  Those who are dammed will continue to sin and continue to increase their guilt and the justice of their suffering for all of eternity.  Even what seem to be virtuous actions of the damned will be sinful.

“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’”

Commentators are all over the map as to what to think of the rich man’s request to warn his brothers.  Rather than speculate, other than to say he was tormented in his mind and soul, as well as in his body, let us look at Abraham’s response:  all the evidence needed for belief and salvation can be found in the Law and the Prophets – Moses and the Prophets.

That tells us that there is not merely law in the Old Testament, but Gospel. There is a tendency, even if slight, to put the Old Testament on a lower rung – to see it as unimportant in the light of the New Testament.  It is true that the New Testament opens and explains the Old Testament, but here we have Jesus saying that the Old Testament is enough to come to faith and salvation.

So often we hear that the Old Testament is about the God of Wrath and the New Testament is about the God of Love, but all of the Bible is about the same God, Who exposes our sin and shows us our need for salvation from God’s Wrath.  It is from Jesus’ mouth that we hear almost everything that is said about Hell in the Bible.

The rich man made one final desperate plea – whatever the reason:

“And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”

            The rich man argues that his brothers will believe if they see someone rise from the dead – if they hear from someone who has risen from the dead.  He argues that the rising of a dead person with a message about the afterlife would be more convincing than Moses and the Prophets – the Word of God.  But Abraham assures him that anyone who will not believe Moses and the Prophets will not believe someone who rises from the dead.

            And some of us may be thinking, “No.  That’s crazy.  If someone came back from the dead and told me about the truth of life after death, I would believe it.”  Or would you think it was a hallucination?  And if you believed it was someone raised from the dead, would you question their mind, having been dead?

            When contrasting the very Word of God and a resurrected human being, the Word of God makes more sense and is more convincing.  So, the answer was “no.”

            The answer is the same for us today:  although there are a variety of words for death and the place one resides after death, it is clear that there are two ultimate lives – eternal death, which is eternal suffering of the body, mind, and soul, and eternal life, which is eternal joy and worship with Jesus.

            Jesus clearly made that distinction:

            “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46, ESV).

            “The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:39b-42, ESV).

            “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14-15, ESV).

            Hell is a place of eternal suffering in every possible way.  I would hope you do not want to spend eternity there!  There is Only One Way to be saved – and that is by believing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ – receiving Him as Savior.  Do you recognize that you are a sinner?  Have you ever done anything morally wrong?  Then you understand that you have sinned – you have sinned against God, because He is our Creator.  And God said, if we sin, we must die – eternally.  The punishment must fit the crime, and if we have sinned against the Infinite God, our punishment must be infinite.  The Only Hope is to believe in Jesus and what He did on earth to make God’s people right with Him.

            Do you know of anyone who does not believe?  Do you care about them in any way?  Can you just sit back and watch them go to Hell without once explaining the dire jeopardy they are in?  It should trouble us and make us shudder to know that so many will suffer eternally.  How can we say nothing?

            During this Holy Week, let us meditate on Hell.  Think about the rich man in Hades, waiting to be received into Hell – how he suffered and begged for the slightest relief.  Consider the abuse and torture that Jesus went through especially in His last twenty-four hours and as He suffered Hell on the cross for all those who would ever believe in Him.  What has Jesus done for we who believe?  Shall we do anything knowing how many still do not believe in Him?

            Jesus gathered His twelve apostles together to celebrate the Passover one last time with them, and He introduced the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper:

            “When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ He answered, ‘He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.’ Judas, who would betray him, answered, ‘Is it I, Rabbi?’ He said to him, ‘You have said so’” (Matthew 26:20-25, ESV).

            Jesus announced to them that one of them would betray Him, and they knew themselves enough to question themselves – they all thought they could be the betrayer.  But he who was to betray Jesus calmly played along with the questioning, and Jesus told him that he knew he was the betrayer.

            Now, we are not told whether Judas repented and believed before he committed suicide, so we cannot say that Judas is definitely in Hades, waiting to be received into Hell.  However, we can say that if he did not repent and believe in Jesus before his suicide, he is in Hades, waiting to be received into Hell.

            And consider what Jesus said, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”  Why?

            If Judas had never been born, he would not exist – there would be no question of everlasting torment or everlasting life – he just would not exist.  Such is not the case for a person who does exist – people never go out of existence – people never completely die – and every person will be raised to life in Hell or life in the Kingdom of Heaven.

            Jesus’ words certainly imply that Judas would have been better off never being born, for then he would never exist, but he did exist and betrayed the Son of God, so, if he did not believe and repent, he will reap everlasting torment in Hell as his reward.

            And some will point out that Judas did repent:

            “Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.’ So they took counsel and bought with them the potter's field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord directed me’” (Matthew 27:3-10, ESV).

Judas did repent for betraying an innocent man, but there doesn’t seem to be any more to it than that.  There is no textual evidence that Judas repented and believed in Jesus. 

            “(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)”  (Acts 1:18-19, ESV).

            Judas – in anguish – went to the field, and impaled himself, such that it torn open his midsection and his bowels fell out.  And that was far less painful and horrific than Hell.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we have sinned against You.  We thank You for forgiving us through Jesus and for His taking the wages of our sin upon Himself.  We ask that any here tonight that do not belief will meditate on the misery of Hell and be struck by the Truth of Your Gospel.  We ask that each one here who believes would also take time to meditate on the misery of Hell and consider who we need to tell the Gospel to – that You, in Your Mercy, might cause them to believe.  Lord, help us to take these things seriously, believing that our life is eternal – either in torment or in the Kingdom of Heaven.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.