Get Off the List

Such were some of you; but you were washed…sanctified…
justified in the name of the Lord... 
1 Corinthians 6:11

This verse contains the biggest BUT in the Bible. Paul has just taken our inventory, listing those sins and identities that keep us out of the kingdom of God. Back up a couple of verses and read the list. The bad news is that we’re all somewhere on the list.  How many define you? “…the sexually immoral, adulterers, homosexuals, drunkards, thieves…”  It’s a thorough list and leaves very little to speculation. Just cleaning up our acts won’t erase those stains. Turning over a new leaf, doing religious activities, or trying to even up the score won’t get our names off the list. Because God is outside of time, every sin from our past and present follows us like a noxious cloud, the way dog doodoo clings to the bottom of a shoe. 

God doesn’t tolerate the stench.  

Then comes the good news—there is a BUT! Jesus came to this earth, lived the life we should have lived, pleased God in every way, and then offered Himself as payment for the debt we owe God. On the cross, He became everything on the list (2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 2:14). As the Son of God hung suspended between heaven and earth, God poured out on Him all the righteous wrath He has against our sin. When Jesus rose from the dead, He put the BUT in that verse. He offers to tear up the list for anyone who will surrender to His lordship. When we bow at the cross, Jesus’ sacrifice erases the stains of our past. In exchange, we get His righteousness credited to our account. 

We don’t have to stay on the bad list. There is a BUT.

Death to Life

you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 
in which you formerly walked...  
Ephesians 2:1-2

“Hey, can you help me a minute?” called Mr. Branch, the funeral director. “I’m trying to get Mrs. Watkins to volunteer with the Salvation Army this afternoon and she’s not cooperating. Being rather stiff about it.” His assistant raised a brow. “Uh, boss? Mrs. Watkins is…um, dead. She died two days ago. That’s why she’s here. Are you okay?” Mr. Branch frowned at his “client” and dropped her back on the table. “Hm. Guess that would explain her resistance. In fact, that explains all of them. Couldn’t get a one to sign the charity pledge or come to Volunteer Day. Yeah, okay, maybe I should go back on my meds.”

As ridiculous as that sounds, we try to do the same thing that Mr. Branch did. We try to get our sinful flesh to align itself with God’s word and it can’t happen. The Bible says that we are dead before we surrender to Christ. Our self-worshiping natures have no ability to please God. We don’t even want to. Every time we prop ourselves up, teach our sinful selves a few manners, and try to act like Christians without the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s wasted effort. You cannot make a corpse act alive and you cannot give yourself a new spirit. Only Jesus can do that. He did not die on the cross to reform our flesh; He came to kill it. Until we are willing to die to our old lives, we cannot have His new one.

Jesus did not come to make bad people good; He came to make dead people alive.

Give Us Barabbas

But the whole crowd shouted, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!"  
Luke 23:18

How quickly things change. Weren’t these the same people who had been shouting “Hosanna!” a few verses back? Some of them still had hoofprints on their cloaks from laying them in the street for the donkey to walk on. But they had exchanged palm branches for clubs and adoration for scorn. What kind of Messiah lets Himself be arrested and charged with insurrection? Was it true what the religious leaders were saying? Had this Rabbi committed blasphemy? Was He causing riots? What a fraud! They’d called Him a King, but now condemned Him as a criminal. They’d rather have that murdering Barabbas released than this Man who had dashed their hopes. What kind of people change allegiance so quickly? People like us.

“Give us Barabbas!” the Jews cried. “Give us health, wealth, and happiness!” we cry. Maybe there was a time when you welcomed Jesus as your King. Your eyes were opened to Who He was and what He had done for you. But you also welcomed a lot of extras with Him, expectations He did not meet. Maybe you assumed the Christian life would be a smooth ride through Easy Street, but instead, everything got worse. “Forget it,” you thought. “I’ll make myself happy the way I want to.” We’d rather have our rights and our comforts than a God who has dashed our hopes. So we slam the Bible, disconnect from God, and join the Jews in choosing Barabbas. Before we judge their betrayal too harshly, maybe we should first look in the mirror.

Remember This

He isn't here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee.”  Luke 24:6

You’re caught! You forgot something important, and because you forgot you look like an idiot. You should have remembered. It all makes sense now, but it’s too late and you’ve suffered a million agonies because you forgot. 

That’s what Jesus’ friends felt like when the angel gave them that look. “Remember what He told you…”  Facepalm. Of course Jesus wasn’t in the tomb! He’d spelled it out in capital letters a half-dozen times. He’d done everything except draw them pictures. Why hadn’t they caught on? Why hadn’t they believed Him? If they had remembered, they would have been saved days of unremitting grief.

We would also be saved years of unremitting grief if we remembered the things He’s told us. He wrote an entire Book so we wouldn’t forget, but we’re to busy to read it. We think we already know what’s in it. We substitute motivational memes for a thorough study of God’s word, and then wonder why we’re having such trouble living godly lives. We’re not much better than those first disciples who dashed to the tomb, expecting to find the body of Jesus. We dash off in the wrong directions trying to find the answers we need, when all along our Creator has written them down for us. Instead of remembering what He told us, we dash to the bar, the casino, or the TV to tell us how to handle life. 

If all you have time for is the Bible’s Cliff notes, remember this: He is alive. He loves you. He offers you eternal life with Him if you will repent. He has a plan for you. Don’t forget.

Looking for Life in All the Wrong Places

…the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?”   Luke 24:5

-A junkie stares vacantly into space. His words are slurred but unmistakable: “This is livin’, man. Nobody tells me what to do.”

-A coed staggers from the frat house and the door slams shut. Her clothes are ripped and her body hurts in places it’s never hurt before. She straightens her torn skirt and slaps tears from her cheeks. “I only wanted to have fun,” she whispers.

-A man slumps at his desk and winces at the time. 2 am. Another 90-hour week. His wife is complaining and he barely sees his kids, but his stock has never looked so good. Money is the mistress he chose, so why does he feel so dead inside?

Humanity has always looked for the living among the dead. We seek satisfaction, purpose, and love in all the wrong places. We’re so sure we know where to find it that we refuse to consider anything else. Jesus’ friends did the same thing. They came to the graveyard looking for the dead body of a man. Imagine if they’d found it! Christianity would have ended that day. 

Instead, they discovered a living Savior, the Son of God, the Lifegiver who could not be confined to a tomb. When we try to find life among the world’s corpses, we end up with nothing but regrets. Christ’s resurrection guarantees new life for all who seek Him.  

In what ways have you looked for the living among the dead?

Do You Need Incentives?

A large crowd of Jews … came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus…   John 12:9 

- “Next week, a celebrity will be speaking in our services sharing about life in Hollywood. You won’t want to miss it!”
 - “I might go to church if I could find one that started later, had a Starbucks, and made me feel good about myself.”
- “So, the Son of God is preaching. Hmm...didn’t He raise Lazarus from the dead? We want to see Lazarus!”

We would have fit right in with the crowd who wanted to see Lazarus. Jesus was about to sacrifice Himself for the sins of the world, yet the people had to have an extra incentive to seek Him. Nothing has changed. Jesus still isn’t enough to attract most crowds. (Consider the turnout for “just a prayer meeting.”) It was the same in Jesus’ day. John 6:66 is as relevant now as it was then. (Look it up). Human nature is always pushing to make the gospel man-centered. The fact that Almighty God took on human flesh and descended from heaven to be tortured to death for us is ho-hum. Our default attitude is often “Sure, God is great and what-not, but what’s in it for me? I’m too busy/tired/angry/distracted to seek Him—unless there’s a prize.” Even when Jesus was on earth healing people, performing miracles, and feeding crowds, few wanted Him for Himself. They only wanted what He could do for them. Like us, they craved the sensational. No magic tricks? No celebrities? No free stuff? No thanks.

Final Thought:  Check your heart. Is Jesus Himself enough to attract you or do you require extra incentives?

Prayer: Lord God, I’m convicted by how offensive this attitude must be to you. I take so lightly the huge sacrifice you made so that I could know you. Please forgive me and help me get to the place where I want Jesus for Himself. In His name, Amen. 

Cry "Hosanna!"

They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!”  John 12:13

In Hebrew, the cry “Hosanna!” means “save now” or “help me.” It was a cry of distress but also of intense happiness. The Jewish people were overjoyed that their Messiah had come at last. When He rode into town on a donkey, He was fulfilling the ancient prophesies written about Him (Zech. 9:9). Surely He would overthrow the oppressive Romans, punish the arrogant Pharisees, and establish His throne in Jerusalem. So they cheered with all their might, but those cheers turned to jeers in less than a week when He did not live up to their expectations. His deliverance was not what they had in mind so they turned away.

 “Help me, God!” we cry when the doctor says “No hope,” the IRS says “Pay up,” or the landlord says “Get out.” “Hosanna!” we cry to the Deliverer we imagine. Then the loved one dies, the debts stack up, or we lose our home and we assume our God failed us. This was not what we had in mind when we cried those words, so we turn away. We’re not much different from the crowd that lined the street that day. Maybe we too would have shouted “Crucify Him!” when He did not fulfill our expectations. God’s way of delivering us is often not what we had in mind because His ways are better. They’re eternal. God’s plan restores what sin destroyed. His deliverance is Kingdom-focused, not limited to earthly focus. “Hosanna!” was the right cry, but the wrong motivation. When we understand Who Jesus is and why He came, we can shout “Hosanna!” and trust His answers.