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.
What a strange day Palm Sunday is. Here we are at the beginning of Holy Week enjoying our children as they wave palm branches and sing loud hosannas. And we have joined our voices with theirs. And yet we are like Jesus, we know what’s ahead, we know how quickly the hosannas will turn to crucify Him, crucify Him. How fickle is the human heart. How fickle is life. Everything can be going so well, and then suddenly something happens, some bad news, some accident, some change of events, and the darkness and fear move in. As we have been learning how to preach the Gospel to ourselves it became evident to me that the Gospel according to Palm Sunday is a great help and encouragement to us especially when life is unsettling or fickle or just plain hard. Let’s consider seven lessons from Palm Sunday, seven truths of the Gospel from this day.
Until the last century most scientists believed time was eternal. Only in the 20th century with Einstein’s theory of relativity was it discovered that time had a beginning. In other words, there was a time when time was not. Interestingly, if you read the religious books of most other religions they speak of time as eternal. Only the Bible claims time is not eternal but had a beginning. People say the Bible is not scientific and not accurate, yet from the beginning the Bible has been uniquely clear that time has a beginning, and that God was active before time. The reverse is the case regarding the Gospel. People think the Gospel had a beginning, maybe when Jesus was 30 years old and began proclaiming the Gospel. Or maybe in the OT, even as far back as Genesis 3:15 and the Gospel promise that the seed of woman would crush the head of the serpent. I want to explore with you this morning that the Gospel is in fact eternal, it has no beginning, it was with God before time.
A common feature of Buddhism is prayer wheels. Cylinders with a prayer mantra written on it and inside of it, the first syllable is Om. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition spinning a prayer wheel has the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers. “Just touching and turning a prayer wheel brings incredible purification and accumulates unbelievable merit.” Each revolution is as meritorious as reading the inscription aloud as many times as it is written on the scroll, and this means that the more prayer mantras that are inside a prayer wheel, the more powerful it is. One on-line site advertises their prayer wheel this way: “Our prayer wheels contain millions and even billions of the Tibetan Buddhist mantra "Om Mani Padme Hung." The mantras were carefully reproduced on microfilm to allow a large number of mantras to fit inside each prayer wheel.” Buddhist temples will have rows and rows of large prayer wheels that you just walk by to spin. And there are many that are powered by water, wind, solar panels or heat from a candle or fire. That sounds utterly foreign to all of us and we feel sadness for millions of people trapped in such a performance, merit-based religion. We can’t imagine ever doing something like that. Except that we all live in a performance-based world. We grow up in homes where our parents set demands and have expectations based on performance, obedience, keeping the rules. We can often feel like we don’t measure up, we can’t please them, no matter how hard we try.
So let’s talk about these four glasses of water. Four pictures of our spiritual life. A glass half empty/full. What do you see here? How would you describe this glass? Half full or half empty? Most of us view life according to this first glass, sometimes it seems half full and sometimes it seems half empty. If you are an optimistic person, like Tigger, more often you will see it as half full. If you are more of a pessimistic person, like Eeyore, you might see it as half empty. There are variations on this theme. Do we complain rose bushes have thorns, or do we rejoice that thorn bushes have roses?