There is a word that has snuck into our vocabulary over the past couple of months. We are hearing this word used a lot lately by politicians, the news media, medical people. In fact, you could almost say that the frequency of the use of this word is unprecedented. That’s the word, unprecedented. And of course, what is being called unprecedented is the Covid-19 pandemic. The word means without precedent, unique, unparalleled, without previous instance. Nothing like it before. Cancelling the CRC Synod meeting is unprecedented in our 160 year history. Now there is some truth to that. None of us in our life time have experienced anything quite like what we are going through now. It has some of the financial implications of the great depression, some of the life restrictions like the rationing and blackouts during WWII, some of the fear of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, some of the long school closures like the blizzard of 1950. But when you put all of that into one event and then spread it all over the globe it can certainly have an unprecedented feel to it. This will go down in history as a recognizable seismic event. One for the history books. One you young people will tell your kids and grandkids. But any student of history will tell you this pandemic is not so unprecedented in human history. There have been countless plagues and pestilences, epidemics and pandemics. Millions of people died in the Spanish flu and in various bubonic plagues and many others. Scripture says there is nothing new under the sun, except one thing, one truly unprecedented event, one event like no other before it or after it. One event without parallel.
Why are we in the garden on Palm Sunday? Remember we have been focusing on Satan’s attacks and lies, first on us by saying “did God really say,” and twisting Scripture. Then we looked at Satan’s attack on Jesus in the three temptations where Satan was again twisting Scripture. Now we are finishing with two other times when Jesus faced serious, strong temptations, last week from Peter telling Jesus He would never suffer as the Son of God. And now this week when the Son of God wrestles in a garden with the temptation to avoid suffering if possible. Human history began in a garden. Human history was completely rewritten in a garden. The first Adam ignored the will of God and results were disastrous. The second Adam sought the will of God and the results were hard but very good. Adam ate of the fruit in the garden and plunged us all into sin and death. Jesus agreed to drink of the cup in the garden and raise us all to holiness and life. In the first garden sin and Satan won and the curse was begun. In the second garden sin and Satan lost and the curse was about to be broken. Adam was put to the test in the garden and failed miserably. Jesus was put to the supreme test of His life and triumphed. We come to one of the most powerfully moving and emotionally charged scenes in the life of Jesus, certainly one of the most human scenes.
Peter makes a stunningly clear and bold confession. You are the Son of God, having the same character and nature and power as God the Father. You are the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God who will save His people from their sins. Jesus is exceedingly pleased and praises Peter while at the same time making it clear that anytime a person declares the truth about Jesus they have been enabled to do so by God through His Holy Spirit. Have we made this profession? Can you say this out loud in sincere faith with all your heart? Then know this, that is the hand of the living God in your life. God has touched your heart and opened the blind eyes of a sinner.
Let me remind us where we are in our Lenten series since we took a break from it last week and the week before seems like a two months ago with all we have been going through. We have been looking at Satan’s attack on Jesus through three temptations in the wilderness. After 40 days of fasting, Satan goes straight for Jesus’ stomach and urges him to turn some stones into bread. After all the Son of God has the power and certainly should not have to suffer and go starving. But Jesus answers, “Man shall not live by toilet paper alone, but by the Word of God.” That’s my loose translation of the Greek. But actually it isn’t so far off. We don’t live by what we think we need most, we live by what God says we need most, the substance of His Word. Then Satan decided to tempt Jesus with Scripture and quoted from Psalm 91 to get Jesus to jump off the church steeple and show His glory when a legion of God’s angels rush down to save Him and keep Him from suffering. But Jesus has some better verses about not being tempted to tempt God. So third time is charm, right? Satan pulls out all the stops, loads both barrels, pushes all the chips in. This is the big one.
Last week we looked at the first temptation of Jesus. The first temptation called into question the Father’s care, provision, love and goodness. Take matters into your own hands, the Son of God should not be starving. It was a appeal to weakness, to intense hunger after 40 days with no food. Satan knows our flesh and our weaknesses and he is always trying to exploit them. But that didn’t work with Jesus. One characteristic of Satan is he is nothing if he isn’t relentlessly persistent. Just because Jesus won the first round, means nothing to him, there is no quit in Satan. If he failed once, he comes right back to it again and again. You can never let your guard down. Never think that if you dodged one bullet there won’t be more.
You have heard of the song that does not end. Well this sermon series on preaching the Gospel to ourselves may seem like the Lenten sermon series that does not end. This series has been like going into a mine and finding a vein of gold and start digging. That vein leads to another one a little deeper, and then another one, and another one. And here we are several months later still digging, still uncovering nuggets, truths. But today we come to the end, where I sum up what we have been talking about when we say we should preach the Gospel to ourselves every day. One of the main points I have tried to make over these many weeks is that the Gospel is not a one-time thing for when we get saved. We never outgrow our need for the Gospel, it has everyday relevance for all of our lives. We never mature past the point of needing to know how the Gospel applies to every situation and circumstance in our lives.
We are in the postscript or PS of John’s letter where he gives some final affirmations or exhortations, each marked with “we know” and these are followed by a final warning. Since the warning stands by itself and seems like a very strange way to end a letter, we will take it up separately. So, this evening let’s consider these three “we knows.” It’s one of John’s favorite words, he repeats it a lot, over thirty times in I John and over 100 times in his Gospel. The Christian faith is not a mystery religion, not a religion over which hangs a heavy cloud of unknowing, of cosmic uncertainty, of endless speculation. There are great truths in our faith that stand as absolutes, as things about which you need not doubt. John lays down three great truths here.
If you were a random unbeliever reading through the Bible for the first time like it was any other book, there’s a chance you might wonder what all the fuss was over Jesus’ resurrection. I mean, its not like it was the first time someone came back from the dead. So, what’s the big deal? In the OT there are three resurrections all during the prophetic ministries of Elijah and Elisha. In I Kings 17 Elijah raised the son of the widow of Zarephath. Elisha, who is said to have a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, raised two people. In II Kings 4 he raised a Shunammite’s son and in II Kings 13 a corpse came to life when it touched Elisha’s bones. Then in the Gospels there are three resurrections. Jesus raised the son of a widow in Nain (Luke 7), Jairus’s daughter (Matthew 9), and Lazarus (John 11). Jesus’ resurrection is the seventh resurrection recorded in Scripture. So, what’s the big deal? Well it is a big deal because the others are nothing like Jesus’ at all. It is one of a kind.