Tonight, many will gather together at the Minnaert Center for the Arts at 7:00pm for what is the first of a two-part service examining the last chapter of the earthly life of Jesus Christ. This evening, Mars Hill Church Olympia invites you look at the final hours leading up to the cross through scripture reading, meditation, and singing. Pastor Ryan Welsh, who serves at Mars Hill Downtown Seattle, will be delivering a short sermon and then we will respond through communion. The entire service will last approximately an hour and fifteen minutes and we will have our normal Mars Hill Kids ministry operating for ages 10 and under as they are led in a teaching on the cross as well.
As I have been reflecting and preparing for our service this evening, I would like to share something that I hope will help you as you prepare your heart and mind.
I would like us to reflect on the reality that God became a man.
In the beginning we know that God created the earth and all that is in it with the sound of his voice. He spoke and it happened.
“Dry land.” Dry land.
It has long baffled me that God did not do the same to restore order after Adam and Eve’s sin and rebellion. Why not speak, with the thundering voice of God, and stop cold the heart of man who would shutter and whelp at the command of God as he restores order, harmony, and peace?
When I became a Dad three and a half years ago to my precious firstborn daughter, Raelynn, I believe God tenderly gave insight to this answer. I soon realized that the voice of a father can do many things. It can warmly invite, tenderly console, and gently encourage but it can also coldly demand, harshly critique, and fiercely shatter the wall of love and care built through time and effort in a sudden outburst.
I remember a moment when Raelynn was playing with a large wooden pole we used to help lock the sliding glass door leading to our backyard that wasn’t a toy and was far too large for her to properly handle. After repeated times of asking her to not play with it, taking it away, placing it where I thought she wouldn’t find it, and her finding it and continuing to put herself at risk trying to wield it I frustratingly raised my voice to tell her to STOP!
I’ll never forget those big, blue eyes with little tears forming in the corners, that quivering lower lip beginning to shake uncontrollably, and those heavy sobs birthing deep in her tiny lungs breaking forth into a wail of brokenness and despair.
The voice of a father. The effects on a beloved daughter.
God showed me in that moment that while he had every ability in the world to stop sin and redeem the world with a single command from his voice he did not. Instead, he bent down on one knee and by taking the form of humanity looked us square in the eye to tell us he loves us and explain to us why our sinful rebellion can only lead to death and destruction while showing us the way to life and restoration. He chose this plan for redemption because it shows so clearly the desire of his heart; his desire for us to experience a relationship with him. Just as the Trinitarian God lives in a perfect, loving relationship as Father, Son, and Spirt, he calls to us inviting us to experience the same in him and through him.
Tonight, the Father reaches out to us. He beckons us to respond, not to religious duty or moralism. No, he calls us to respond to himself. The Creator and Sustainer of your life has bent his knee to look into your eyes to speak clearly to you. You are an adopted son, an adopted daughter, of the King. He loves you and by his love you are redeemed and reconciled from your sin and rebellion.
Never forget this.
The cross isn’t a story of a distant hero, a savior now told through myth and legend. No, the cross is the story of your Father and his only, beloved Son.
He took the pole we were so thoughtlessly playing with and showed us the danger of that carelessness by impaling his Son on it through his death on the cross.
The cross should be our destination, our reality, for the consequences of our sin and rebellion. Instead, we are safe in our Father’s arms and soothed by his caring and comforting voice.
What a God. What a Savior.
Easter Sunday. Three days away. Where do I stand?
Tie? Double Check.
Pastel colored dresses for the girls? Check.
Easter bonnet for Rachel? No check. She’s not down with that weirdness.
Easter egg hunt scheduled for the kids in the backyard with a specific number of eggs counted and hidden with a clearly defined map in order for me to find the ones not found so our backyard doesn’t smell like a rotten egg? Check.
Plan for the Easter feast after the morning service? Check.
Mint jelly for the lamb? Check.
NCAA Tournament schedule with games appropriately chosen for viewing schedule? Check.
Oops. I mean, final episode of “The Bible” found on the History channel? Check.
Spot on the couch chosen with correct position for ottoman for maximum comfort? Check.
Looks like I’ve got Easter Sunday in the bag this year.
Glad I had a lot of priorities to keep me busy so I could celebrate the Resurrection effectively. I mean, it is only once a year and this suit has a pretty good track record for successful resurrections. I might need to get it taken out a little next year, though. I’d hate to see the pastor take a button to the windpipe during his Easter sermon due to my three extra helpings of lamb. But that mint jelly is just so tasty.
Easter Sunday isn’t about us. It’s about Jesus. In fact, every Sunday is about Jesus. Really, every day is about Jesus. You might have heard this before, “It’s All About Jesus”(just a little tagline we throw around here at Mars Hill). We celebrate the resurrection of Jesus every Sunday as we take communion together remembering both his death and resurrection. Let’s make every effort to make Easter about Jesus this year by using the day to engage with the unbelievers we are in relationship with in the hope that they would be saved by Jesus. That doesn’t mean our traditions are bad or not worth doing. It does mean that Easter shouldn’t be primarily about us as the focus. Easter is celebrated around the world. Many businesses and institutions close on Good Friday. No other time of the year has a bigger global focus on Christianity. Use this reality to engage with people about Jesus. People are searching. Will you plant the seed?
I’m praying for all of the Gospel seeds that have been planted, watered, and nurtured over this last year to be brought to harvest this Sunday by our Savior, Jesus Christ. Don’t get so distracted by the holiday that you miss the opportunity to be a part of Jesus rescuing people from darkness and bringing them into the light. Who are you bringing to one of our Easter services this Sunday? 9:00am & 11:15am. And did you invite them over for that special dinner you have all planned? That might be a good touch, too.
Easter Sunday? Check.
Over the last year I’ve had the incredible pleasure of getting to know Rich & Lisa Downen, a couple who have a mile-long track record of action that backs up the words they speak when it comes to loving and raising children. Not only do they have ten children, seven of the ten are adopted; five from Ethiopia and two from China. Terefu, who was adopted five years ago from Ethiopia along with her younger brother Asher, is a senior in high school this year and for her senior project decided to raise support for AHopeforChildren. AHope is a non-profit organization whose mission is to serve the children of Ethiopia, with a primary emphasis on caring for orphans infected with HIV. Terefu has a goal of raising $1000 for AHopeforChildren, but wouldn’t it be great to see an extra zero placed on the end of that goal and to be a part of changing the trajectory of young lives in Ethiopia? Check out Terefu’s senior project and join with me as we give hope to these children in Africa.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespass against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20a
One of the things that drove me away from Christianity in my early twenties was the mental struggle of being a new creation in Christ. From the culture I was living in I was led to believe that to be a new creation was to be perfect. Realizing that my life in Christ seemed to lack the spandex super powered suit of perfection I came to the realization that either Christianity was a farce or my understanding of being a new creation was lacking. Thankfully, I came to realize through further reading of the Bible and by the influence of humble, Godly men what this truth in 2 Corinthians really is. That yes, all of us who are in Christ, whom Jesus has adopted as sons and daughters and has redeemed through his death and resurrection are in fact, new creations. Meaning that our hearts and minds have changed. That the old, futile path of self-absorbed, self-glorifying, self-satisfaction that only leads to pain, heart-ache and death has been left behind and instead a new life where my actions and affections are stewarded and turned towards the Creator of all life has been birthed from within.
Yet, this new birth doesn’t make me perfect. Rather, it cements the truth that its foundation is not in me and my actions but rather in Jesus and his supreme actions on the cross. Being a new creation is the result of being in Christ. In Christ, I receive every benefit that is Christ; his adoption as a son, his redemption by his blood, the lavishing of his grace and mercy, his inheritance of salvation and the guarantee of our inheritance in the life to come.
How freeing is it that I don’t have to live under the weight of my own perfection. Rather, I am able to live in the freedom Christ gives me through his perfect righteousness. The yoke of perfection turns from duty to delight as I rest in the perfect life of Christ, which is how my Father sees me.
But let us not forget why Christ gives us new life. He works in us in order to work through us now giving us the same ministry of reconciliation that we encountered at our new birth. If you are in Christ, you are now an ambassador. And as an ambassador you are now an active agent of God in the reconciliation process of new life.
“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20b-21
Have you moved from message receiver to message ambassador? Who will you implore today with the message of reconciliation?