Sunday, April 23, 2017

Taking the My out of Money: The Big Things

Two weeks ago I spoke about the little things, the minutia, the details.  In that case it was the details that would have been involved in supporting Jesus and his disciples.  And I looked at Luke 8:1-3.  In particular the verse that said Luke 8:2-3 Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.
Do you remember why they contributed their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples?  That’s right because they loved Jesus and believed in the mission.  But that was 2 weeks ago when I spoke about the little things, the minutia, and the details. 
This is April, which often means Easter and always means weird weather.  At Cornerstone, April is the Month that we call Stewardship Emphasis month, or as it redubbed a number of years ago, Money Month.
Those who have been a part of Cornerstone for a while know the why and the how of Money Month, but we will catch the rest of you up.
For the first 7 years of our existence Cornerstone operated like most other churches.  In the spring, just before the new church year, we would sit down as a leadership team and draw up a budget for the upcoming year.  And usually the budget was based on the previous year’s budget with an increase, because we needed to take a step of faith.  I’m not even sure that we needed to have met the previous year’s budget before we used it as our template.
But the budget was kind of a wish list, we want to do this, we have to do this and we need to do this and then we’d put it all together and call it a budget.     
And because we’d really only done one side, the expense side we’d ultimately end up having problems at some point through the year with the other side, the income side. 
And when the money issue would inevitably come up with the leadership team there were always 2 suggestions.  Denn needs to put in the bulletin what our short fall is so people know and Denn needs to preach on money.
And I always had a problem with both of those suggestions.  Putting it in the bulletin is just discouraging and for the folks we are trying to reach it sends a really dismal message.  And the Denn preaching on money, that gets old really quick when you know the only reason Denn is preaching on money is because there are money problems.
So in 2002 we decided to do something different.  I would take a month and preach on the theology of generosity because it was April, not because we were in a bad financial situation.  And then at the end of the month we would ask those who called Cornerstone their church home to fill out an estimate of giving card, which looks like this. 
And it is exactly what it says it is. It is a card where you estimate what you will be able to give in the up coming year.  And we use those cards to set the budget for the upcoming year.  And not a nickel more, we used to say not a penny more, but then they did away with the penny.    
So two weeks ago we spoke about the little things, this week I am going to be speaking about a big thing, as a matter of fact you might even say it was a BHAG or Big Hairy Audacious Goal.   I don’t know if you are familiar with the term but it comes from Jim Collins, the author of “From Good to Great”.  
Here is how Collins’ defines a BHAG:  A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.”
And this was in the truest sense a BHAG.  We first read about it in a discussion that King David had with his son Solomon in 1 Chronicles 22:7 “My son, I wanted to build a Temple to honour the name of the Lord my God,” David told him.  For four hundred years the people of Israel had been worshipping God in a temporary facility, the tabernacle which God himself had provided inspiration for to Moses.  But the time had come as a nation that King David felt there needed to be a permanent spiritual home for the people of God.  Sounds like a good idea, I’ve known other leaders who have cast the vision for a permanent place of worship.    But listen to the rest of the story that David told his son, 1 Chronicles 22:8 “But the Lord said to me, ‘You have killed many men in the battles you have fought. And since you have shed so much blood in my sight, you will not be the one to build a Temple to honour my name.
Now personally if I was David I would be a little confused, after all he might have shed blood but he was just following God’s commands and for the most part he was defending Israel against the Philistine and Amalekites and everyone else who thought they should have a piece of Israel, some things never change. 
But I’m not David and I’m not God.  And the issue here wasn’t an issue of whether David was obedient or disobedient instead it was a matter of God’s timing and apparently, God’s temple was to be built during a time of peace and not one of conflict because God told David that Solomon would be able to do what David could only dream of doing.  And that was to build the temple. 
I think it says a lot about David that even though he knew he wouldn’t get to build the temple he did his very best to see that the temple got built, the temple didn’t just magically appear, it happened because people gave to make it happen and that takes us to the scripture that was read earlier.    1 Chronicles 29:3 “And now, because of my devotion to the Temple of my God, I am giving all of my own private treasures of gold and silver to help in the construction. This is in addition to the building materials I have already collected for his holy Temple.”
So the first thing is that It was Sacrificial Giving   Not only did David tell the people that he was going to give in front of God and everyone he tells them exactly how much he is giving.  1 Chronicles 29:4 I am donating more than 112 tons of gold from Ophir and 262 tons of refined silver to be used for overlaying the walls of the buildings Now David could have simply said “I’m really, really, really committed to this and so I’m going to give a bunch of gold and silver.”     But he didn’t, he said I’m giving 224,000 lbs of gold, 464,000 lbs of silver.  Now we don’t know what that was worth in their economy. There was no currency as we know it in Israel at that time, but in today’s dollars that much Gold would be worth close to 10 billion dollars Canadian.  And to quote Senator Everett Dirksen “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money”.
And it wasn’t just the king who gave, let’s keep reading in 1 Chronicles 29:6-7 Then the family leaders, the leaders of the tribes of Israel, the generals and captains of the army, and the king’s administrative officers all gave willingly. For the construction of the Temple of God, they gave about 188 tons of gold, 10,000 gold coins, 375 tons of silver, 675 tons of bronze, and 3,750 tons of iron.
Now understand, the tithe was already a part of life for the Jewish people, including the King.  They were already contributing 10% but this wasn’t their tithe and this wasn’t in place of their tithe, this was over and above their tithe.  And if they were like most people in most cultures than I would suspect that the gifts that were given for the temple cost these folks something, there were other things they could have used those gifts for, bigger homes, nicer chariots, new robes and yet they opted to give it, sacrificially to God’s work.
From the looks of it they gave some really neat stuff.  Gold, silver and precious stones.  If you get into the description of the temple being built it was the very best of everything that was used.  Why?  Because apparently just good enough wasn’t what Solomon and the Jewish people wanted to present to their God.  They wanted their offerings to mean something and in order for it to mean something it had to be a sacrifice.   A sacrifice is by definition, a sacrifice.  It is when you give up something of value for something or somebody who you think is more valuable than what you are giving up.
Often I hear people say “Well today people aren’t familiar with sacrifice.”  Sure we are.  In each of our lives we all are familiar with making sacrifices, perhaps not for God but you will make sacrifices for something.  Maybe you will make sacrifices so your children can be in sports or band or go to a private school or get a tutor.  Or maybe you’ll make sacrifices so you can drive a nicer car, live in a better home or have a better retirement. Some people make sacrifices for causes that aren’t nearly as noble.  If you smoke what is it in your life that you sacrifice for your cigarettes?  If you drink, what is it you give up to buy a case of beer or a bottle of liquor?  If you gamble what else could you or should you have spent that money on?   You see when you choose to spend money on one thing instead of on something else you have made a sacrifice.  For better or for worse.
And the amount of the sacrifice is directly proportional to how much you care for the person or object you are making the sacrifice for.  Care a lot, sacrifice a lot, care a little sacrifice a little. 

You cannot love much and give little. 

And it doesn’t have to do with how much you spend instead it’s how much you sacrifice.  What might be a sacrifice for me might not be much of a sacrifice for you. Does that make sense? 
When we were building this building our theme for the capital campaign was “Not equal giving but equal sacrifice.”  And that is still the reality; God doesn’t call for equal giving he calls for equal sacrifice.

So when it comes to what you give to God is it sacrificial or is it just superficial?

Let’s go back to 1 Chronicles 29:3 “And now, because of my devotion to the Temple of my God, I am giving all of my own private treasures of gold and silver to help in the construction. This is in addition to the building materials I have already collected for his holy Temple.”  So you remember whose words these were right?  They were King David’s.  The most powerful and richest man in the Kingdom.  So the next thing we discover about this story is that It was Top Down Giving  It would have been so easy for David to have said “We are going to give a bunch of money to build the temple, and by “we” I mean you.”  
David didn’t expect his people to do something that he wasn’t willing to do. And it didn’t stop with David, the story goes on in 1 Chronicles 29:6 Then the family leaders, the leaders of the tribes of Israel, the generals and captains of the army, and the king’s administrative officers all gave willingly.
All of the leaders of Israel came to the party because they believed in what was being done and they wanted to be a part of it and they wanted to demonstrate their commitment. 
I think it says something about God when we read in John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  God, creator of the universe loved us so much that he what?  He gave.  And what did he give?  He gave his one and only son.  Do you remember what Jesus told the apostles during the last supper?  Luke 22:20 After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.  So the example set for us by God is one of giving and sacrifice.  He doesn’t just demand that his people give, he gave.  And he gave the very best he had to give.
And God continues to give.  Do you believe that all you receive comes from God?
At Cornerstone you can be assured that those in leadership are givers.  Over 7% of our weekly budget comes from our staff, and one of the requirements of being on the leadership team at Cornerstone is that you are a sacrificial giver.
And David not only told the people he was going to give he told them what he was going to give, remember 1 Chronicles 29:4-5 I am donating more than 112 tons of gold from Ophir and 262 tons of refined silver to be used for overlaying the walls of the buildings and for the other gold and silver work to be done by the craftsmen. Now then, who will follow my example and give offerings to the Lord today?”  I wonder if there were people who were upset because David publically declared how much he was giving?   Maybe they didn’t mind that he said he was going to give but they were a little cranky because he named amounts.
Cornerstone went through a capital campaign in order to raise the initial capital needed for this building and as a part of the process Angela and I along with some of the leaders told the congregation how much we were going to commit to our building project over that three year period. 
And I know that there were some folks in the congregation who wondered why I had to state it publicly. Why I didn’t just stand up and say “I’m really, really, really committed to this and so I’m going to give a bunch of money.”     
I don’t think David did it to prove how special he was, everyone knew that David was the richest man in the Kingdom.  It wasn’t going to benefit him much because 25 verses later he died.  I don’t think he did it to shame people into giving. 
When I decided to tell the church how much I was giving it wasn’t so you would think, “Wow that Denn is a great guy.”   If you are going to base that on money there are a lot of people out there that can do more than I can do, does that make them greater?   I certainly didn’t do it to shame people into giving as much as I was giving. 
The reason that David announced for everyone to hear the amount of his gift was for one reason and one reason only.  To show that he was committed to the process.  Listen again to his words
1 Chronicles 29:3 “And now, because of my devotion to the Temple of my God, I am giving all of my own private treasures of gold and silver to help in the construction.”
The reason I tithe to Cornerstone now is the same reason I announced how much my contribution would be the new building, because I am committed to seeing our vision accomplished.  And for anyone who cares I can show you my T-4 and my giving receipt from Cornerstone.  In other words I am willing to put my money where my mouth is.
Neither myself or our staff or the leadership team expects others here to do what they don’t do.
Let’s continue with the story, I love the line in 1 Chronicles 29:6 Then the family leaders, the leaders of the tribes of Israel, the generals and captains of the army, and the king’s administrative officers all gave willingly.  Did you catch the last three words?  All gave willing.
It was Voluntary Giving  This was not a tax that the king imposed to build the temple it was voluntary.  The people of Israel caught the vision for building the temple and they wanted to be involved. 
And when everything was said and done we read in 1 Chronicles 29:9  The people rejoiced over the offerings, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD, and King David was filled with joy.
And that wasn’t the only example of people giving willingly, listen to what Paul wrote about the church in Corinth 2000 years ago, 2 Corinthians 8:10 Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it.
And then there were Paul’s comments on the Christ followers in Macedonia  2 Corinthians 8:2-4 They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.
You probably remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts.  If not, here’s a recap.  They had seen how others in the church had sold property and given it to the church so the kingdom could advance.  So they sold a piece of property and gave the proceeds to the apostles for the church.
And that’s fine but they didn’t give all of the money only a portion of it, and that was fine. 
But they told the church that they gave it all and that wasn’t fine.  We pick up the story in Acts 5:3-4 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!”  And if you know the story the fear of the Lord came over Ananias and he dropped dead.  But it wasn’t what he gave and it wasn’t what he kept that was the issue, it was that he lied to God. 
And really, your giving to Cornerstone is voluntary.  We don’t tell people, “Unless you give you can’t come to Cornerstone.”  We don’t hold you up by your feet after the service and shake you to make sure we got all your money and we don’t ask for anyone’s T-4 to make sure they are tithing.
Let me end with two thoughts:  In the Old Testament God asks his people a rhetorical question through the prophet Malachi and then he answers it himself in Malachi 3:8 “Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ “You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me.”  Interesting, when we don’t give God what is due God then the bible says we are cheating God.
And I know that sometimes we just can’t get our heads around the math, how can we give when it seems we spend all that we have now.  Leonard Nimoy said “The miracle is the more we share, the more we have.”  When you think about it that’s not logical but those that share would tell you it is a reality.
Why did David and the leaders of Israel and the people give to see the temple constructed?  2 reasons ,they are deep so you want to write them down this could have been all the of the sermon  They gave because they loved God and they gave because they believed in the mission.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Rediscover Easter

Rediscovering Easter

He was dead, and with him died all of their dreams, all of their hopes everything they believed in.  They had given everything to him, their past, their present even their future and up until three days ago it seemed like a pretty good bargain.  All he had wanted was everything, and they gave it.  All he had asked was that they believe and oh how they had believed. And why not they had seen the impossible, they hadn’t just thought the impossible, that’s easy, what was it the Queen of Hearts told Alice, “Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”   They had seen the impossible, they had seen blind men see, they had seen lame men walk, and they had seen dead men live.  They believed with all their hearts, but not anymore, now their beliefs were as dead as their master was.

And there was nothing to do but to go home, to leave Jerusalem, to leave their hopes to leave their dreams and just go home.  They might as well try and recover their yesterdays because their tomorrows were as dead as Jesus was. 

They had seen him beaten, they seen him crucified, they had seen him killed and they had seen him buried and they knew the dream was as dead as the dreamer.  Unless, unless it was true what Mary had seen, she had seen an empty tomb, she had seen empty grave clothes and she had seen Jesus.  And if that was the case than he wasn’t dead, he was alive.  And if he was alive than everything was going to be all right. 

I went and saw the Passion of the Christ when it first came out and a friend asked me how I felt about it and I told them “Disturbing”.  And he looked at me a little strange and said “really, I really enjoyed it.”  Seriously?  I find that disturbing as well.  

And the reason I found the Passion disturbing is because crucifixion is disturbing.  But Christianity is not about the crucifixion of Christ it’s about his resurrection, Christianity is not about his death it’s about his life. 

It’s not about mourning it’s about celebrating.  The first Easter morning 2000 years ago must have begun as a bit of a downer, a dreary affair, with Jesus followers remembering what had happened, remembering the horror of Friday, remembering that their friend was dead and their dreams were shattered.  But then the cry rang out he’s alive, the tomb is empty.  And then, it happened, as quickly as turning on the lights, they weren’t mourning his being dead they were celebrating his being alive.  It wasn’t defeat it was victory.  Because he wasn’t dead he was alive and the tomb is empty. 

But how do we know that? Well we do know from history that on the third day the body of Christ was missing.  So where was it?  We believe, as did the early church, that Christ had risen from the dead that there was actually a physical resurrection.  It wasn’t a spiritual metaphor or a mass hallucination or a colossal hoax.   

However, throughout the years there have been other theories put forward as well. 

Last week a movie opened in town called “The Case for Christ”, it’s about Lee Strobels and how he came to faith.

Strobel’s was an atheist as well as an investigative reporter and legal editor for the Chicago Tribune.  He wrote the book “Reckless Homicide” which was an exposé into Ford Motor’s cover-up of the problem they were having with the Pinto’s exploding gas tank.

When Strobel was 28 years old his wife became a Christian at Willow Creek Community Church.  He was beside himself, figured that Leslie had been duped by a brainwashing cult and so he began to investigate the claims of Christianity.   

His motives were to show his wife that Christianity couldn't possibly be true, instead through that journey he himself became a believer.   After his conversion he wrote the book “The Case for Christ”  which chronicled his investigation and is the basis for the movie. 

I have been a Lee Strobel fan since I read his book “Inside the mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary” in 1992.  Angela and I went to the movie last week and it is well worth watching.

 In his book “The Case for Easter” Strobel wrote, “The starting point seemed obvious to me: Clearly, the resurrection was the linchpin of the Christian faith.  After all, anyone can claim to be the Son of God.  But if someone could substantiate the assertion by returning to life after being certifiably dead and buried --- well, that would be a compelling confirmation that he was telling the truth. Even for a sceptic like me.”

The first thing that Strobel wanted to confirm was that Jesus actually died on the cross. 

After all there have been those who have maintained that he only passed out on the cross and came to in the cool air of the tomb. What Strobel discovered was that when presented with the gospel accounts of the crucifixion modern doctors felt that there was little chance that Christ could have survived the torture described there. 

Dr. William D. Edwards is a cardiovascular Pathologist at the Mayo Clinic and he wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association “Clearly, the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound in his side was inflicted . . . Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.”

Once Strobel was satisfied that Jesus was really dead when he was placed in the tomb he needed to affirm that one of the apostles hadn’t stolen the body.  The strongest argument for that is that every one of the apostles was tortured for their faith and for their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. And while there are all kinds of people who will lie there are very few who will maintain that lie in the face of torture and death. 

The same apostles who hid while Jesus was being tortured encountered something or someone that gave them unprecedented power, and according to the scriptures, that something or someone was the risen Christ. Strobel wrote “The disciples didn’t merely believe in the resurrection: they knew whether it was fact or fiction. Had they known it was a lie, they would never have been willing to sacrifice their lives for it. Nobody willing dies for something that they know is false. They proclaimed the resurrection to their deaths for one reason alone: they knew it was the truth.”

Chuck Colson was known as Nixon’s Hatchet man, he was part of the Watergate Seven.  While serving time for what happened at Watergate Colson became a Chirstian.  He would later write about the resurrection:

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

Strobel then lists the various people whom the bible said Jesus had appeared to after the resurrection and said that if you called each of them to a witness stand to be cross examined about what they saw and allowed them 15 minutes to explain that the total testimony time would be 129 hours.  In other words, it would take you from breakfast on Monday until
Friday at dinner time listening around the clock to hear the testimony of those witnesses.  

But what did that really mean, other than the obvious that Jesus wasn’t dead?

Because the Tomb Was Empty His Enemies Knew they Were Wrong  The Jewish Religious leaders said he was a liar and a blasphemer.  The Roman Government said he was deluded and harmless.  Judas felt he had backed the wrong horse and that Jesus was a fraud.

And if Jesus had of remained in the grave then they would have all been proven right, but the grave was empty and they were wrong.

But really, Easter wasn’t about who was proven wrong.  Judas had already taken his own life, Pilate didn’t care who Jesus really was when he had him crucified and still didn’t care and the Jewish leaders still felt threatened by the teaching and life of Jesus.  To admit they were wrong now would signal the end to their power and influence.

But the empty tomb would change the lives of those closest to Jesus and ultimately would change the face of the world.

Because the Tomb Was Empty Peter Knew He Was Forgiven You remember Peter don’t you?  Peter who was one of the twelve.  Peter who was one of the inner circle.  Peter who was one of Jesus’ closest friends. 

It was Peter who walked on water, it was  Peter who offered to die for Jesus and it was Peter who grabbed a sword in the garden and tried to fight off those sent to arrest his friend.

And it was the same Peter who denied he even knew Christ, not once, not twice but three times.

Jesus had been arrested and his followers scattered, all but two of them disappeared.  John and Peter followed Christ, but not together.  We don’t really know if John was challenged about knowing Christ, and if he was we don’t what his response was.  But we do know what happened in the case of Peter.

Biblical Scholars tell us that the Book of Mark was probably the first gospel written.  The same scholars tell us that even though it was written by a young man named John Mark that he was probably just acting as a secretary for someone else.  Someone who had been an eye witness to everything that Christ had done.  And that somebody was in all probability Peter. 

With that is mind let read Peter’s account in Mark 14:67-72 and noticed Peter warming himself at the fire. She looked at him closely and said, “You were one of those with Jesus of Nazareth.” But Peter denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, and he went out into the entryway. Just then, a rooster crowed. When the servant girl saw him standing there, she began telling the others, “This man is definitely one of them!” But Peter denied it again. A little later some of the other bystanders confronted Peter and said, “You must be one of them, because you are a Galilean.” Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know this man you’re talking about!” And immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he broke down and wept.

Come on Peter, what is going on?  This is Jesus, the same Jesus that called you from being a fisherman and turned you into a fisher of men.  The same Jesus that walked on the water, fed the hungry, healed your mother in law and raised Lazarus from the dead.

You don’t know him?  You practically lived with him for the past three years and you don’t know him? You ate together, travelled together, laughed together and you don’t know him?  He taught, you learned.  Maybe you simply forgot that you knew him.  What was it you couldn’t remember?  Was it when you said in Luke 9:20  “You are the Messiah sent from God!”or was it when you said in Matthew 14:33 “You really are the Son of God!”

Peter do you even have the slightest recollection of saying to Jesus in Mark 14:29 Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.”  Or Mark 14:31 No Peter declared emphatically. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!”

But you did deny him, not once, not twice but three times.  And if Jesus had stayed in the tomb than Peter would have lived a life of defeat.  Wallowing in guilt, self-pity and grief.  But Jesus didn’t stay in the tomb.  And when the two Marys found the tomb empty, and the angel told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead, the angel told them in Mark 16:7 Now go and tell his disciples, and especially Peter, . . .

Especially Peter.  Peter who denied him, Peter who swore that he didn’t know him, Peter who turned his back on him when he need Peter the most.  Not to fight for him, not to try and rescue him from the Roman Centurions.  He just needed Peter to be there.  He needed to see Peter in the crowd needed to know that those three years weren’t wasted.  He didn’t need Peter to die for him; he simply needed Peter to live for him.  And Peter denied he ever knew him.

And when Jesus hung on the cross, with the blood from the crown of thorns dripping into his eyes, and he pulled himself up by the iron nails driven through his wrists and said
Father forgive them, he was looking for Peter.  Mark Twain said “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” And that was certainly the case here as Jesus looked out at those who betrayed him, denied him.  Those who demanded his death, and those who gave into those demands. 

But that forgiveness is powerless unless it comes from one who has the power to forgive. Unless it came from one who had the power to say, defeat death.  Without the resurrection that forgiveness would have been worthless, simply more words from a prophet proved wrong by his death.  But when he stepped out of the tomb everything he said, everything he taught was proved to be right.  And his forgiveness became a certainty.

Have you denied him?  With your words, with your behaviour? Have you wondered whether or not Jesus could ever forgive you? The answer is “Yes”, not only can he forgive you, he wants to forgive you and his resurrection proves that he has the power to forgive you, if that is what you want. 

When Peter realized what he had done, the Bible says he broke down and cried, that was remorse, he was sorry for what he had done.  God’s forgiveness is there for each one of us but first we need to acknowledge our wrongs, and be sorry that we did it, not just sorry we got caught doing it, but sorry that we disappointed Jesus.

Because the Tomb Was Empty Thomas Knew He Was Blessed You ever get tagged with a nickname?  Especially one you didn’t like.  You have to feel sorry for Thomas.  This was the disciple that tradition says was responsible for taking the gospel to India. We are told that he was martyred for his faith in the Indian city of Madras. 

If you read through the accounts of Thomas in the Gospels you see a young man fully devoted to Christ.  And yet how do we know him?  Not by his first nickname, which is what the other apostles called him, they called him “The Twin.”  I wonder what they called his brother?    

And yet 2000 years later we still call him “Doubting Thomas”  Why?  One mistake, one lousy mistake.   John 20:24-25 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

As if he was the only one who had doubted.  When the women first came with the news of the resurrection, well let’s pick up the story where we left off. Luke 24:10-11 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it.

Doubting Thomas indeed.  But he probably verbalized it better, saying I won’t believe unless I can see it myself.  Not a impossible or unreasonable request considering the time and circumstances.  Not like Woody Allen who said “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name at a Swiss bank.”

All Thomas was saying was “you’ve seen him, if I’m going to believe than I need to see him too.”  Not unreasonable at all.  And when he saw Christ he believed, he looked at him and said “My Lord and my God”.   And do you remember what Jesus said John 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”  

That’s you, blessed are you who haven’t seen him and believe anyway.  You do believe in the resurrection don’t you?  You can’t take bits and pieces of the Bible, believe some of it but not the rest.  Augustine said “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”

If you don’t believe that Christ rose from the dead why are you here?  If I didn’t believe I could think of a dozen other things I’d rather be doing than being in church on a Sunday morning. 

Everything that Jesus Christ said and did could be duplicated or fabricated right up to his resurrection.  But at that point it became very apparent that he was not a man, he was not just a prophet or a teacher.  He was and still is God.  And what does that mean for you on April 16, 2017?  Well in Romans 4:25 The Bible says Romans 4:25 He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.  And again in Romans 6:4 And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Have you been made right with God?  Are you leading a new life?  That’s why Jesus was raised from the dead, so that you could be forgiven, so that you could believe and so that you could have a new life. And all you have to do is reach out and accept it.

Maybe today you can identify with  Lee Strobel when he wrote “As soon as I reached that monumental verdict, the implications were obvious. If Jesus overcame the grave, he’s still alive and available for me to personally encounter.” And encounter him he did on November 8, 1981. Perhaps you will point to April 16, 2017 as the date of your encounter with the risen Christ.

Because the tomb is still empty