What a glorious Easter Sunday we had! I hope you encountered the Risen Lord in a life-changing way and that you have had chains falling off of your life this week. I hope that even though the Lenten season is over and many of you fasted something or added a discipline like reading through the New Testament that you will still look for ways to passionately follow Jesus. He is the Way, and He is the Waymaker. He is the One I want to pattern my life after. He is the only One who knows the Way out of this life into the next, so I want to follow Him!
That reminds me of a story about a buddhist in Africa who was converted to Christianity. Somebody asked the former Buddhist, “Why did you change your faith?” Here’s what he said: “It’s like this: If you are walking along and came to a fork in the road and two men were there, and one was dead and the other was alive, which man’s directions would you follow?”
I’m following the One who is alive forevermore! How about you?
John 14:1-4 1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
We live in a world where words are cheap and promises are easily broken. As a result, we live in a world with a lot of relational stress, strife, and drama. It is hard to feel safe, to know who to count on, and to live at peace when you wonder if what you are expecting someone to deliver will actually come through. You can experience intense joy or relief when someone makes you a promise, but suffer disappointment, depression and discouragement when that promise is broken. Mix in the feelings of betrayal and bitterness so easily takes up space in our hearts and minds.
Jesus made a lot of promises to His disciples. To those who had previously been fishermen, He told them He would make them fishers of men. He told them that if they followed Him, He would yoke up with them and give them rest in their work. He said that anyone who acknowledges Him as Lord and Savior would have eternal life in Heaven. He said His followers could have abundant life. He said He would be persecuted, killed, and would be raised to life on the third day.
Jesus had never given His disciples a reason to doubt Him. The most faithful person in this room will still fail from time to time. We will still make a promise that we wind up forgetting about or that we wind up not being able to keep once in a while. Even if we mean what we say, there will still be moments when we can’t deliver, but that never happened to the disciples with Jesus; not one time, ever. Jesus had always followed through. He had always made it happen. There was no reason to ever doubt Him.
And yet, on the heels of the Resurrection instead of responding in faith and trust with great joy over the empty tomb and expectation regarding what was ahead, many of the disciples lived with DISTRESS, DOUBT, and DEPRESSION. Jesus had never broken a promise. He said He would rise from the dead, and the tomb was definitely empty. There was no question about the tomb being empty. They could see the tomb was empty. He promised the tomb would be empty, and yet, they were afraid in John 20:19. Thomas doubted it could even be possible in John 20:25. And in Luke 20:17, some of Jesus’ followers were wallowing in depression.
Why the reason for distress, doubt, and depression when just a few days earlier they had been on a spiritual high with Jesus? They had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. They witnessed the Palm Sunday parade where Jesus was the main attraction. The crowds who had been following Him had grown beyond their wildest expectations. They knew Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. They had been taught that He was the Living Bread, sent from Heaven and that He had come to redeem the world from sin. There was not a lack of knowledge about who Jesus was or why He had come. There wasn’t even a lack of knowledge about what they could expect. There was also no lack of experience with Jesus. Jesus had NEVER let them down. So, why then when there is no lack of knowledge and no lack of experience did the disciples give in to distress, doubt, and depression?
They did because they let their feelings have authority over their lives rather than the words of Jesus.
Of course the Resurrection was a lot to take in. They had been afraid from the time of Jesus’ arrest. If Jesus could be arrested, what could happen to them? The “could be’s”, the “what if’s”, the endless possibilities of everything bad that could happen had already grabbed their thoughts. When they gave their minds over to negative thinking, negative emotions latched onto those ideas and started to distress their hearts. And when our hearts are in distress it is natural to distrust, even when the Someone we are distrusting is Jesus.
Yes, the Resurrection was a lot to take in. If Jesus had risen, then where was He? Why hadn’t they ALL seen Him? Why did they have to take the word of a woman, Mary Magdalene, in a day when a woman’s word didn’t even hold up in a court of law? Until Thomas saw the Lord for Himself, he wouldn’t believe even though His experience with Jesus’ Word and Jesus’ ways should have left no room for doubt. Instead of relying on the numerous times Jesus had proven Himself to Thomas, he asked for proof in order to believe something different than he could see. That, my friends isn’t faith.
The Resurrection was just too good to be true for some disciples who left town depressed and full of question about what their future would look like without Jesus leading the way. Even with Jesus’ promises to rise from the dead, His physical absence left them with more questions than answers. And when they didn’t have the answers instead of waiting and trusting and believing, they grew worried and depressed. Instead of telling their minds to mind their faith, they let their faith mind their minds and gave into despair.
Here is my big idea for this morning: We have got to learn to live in the light of what Jesus said, and not in the light of what our circumstances or our feelings tell us.
Will you take Jesus at His Word this morning, and let His Word and not your feelings or your circumstances be the authority for your life? He said in John 14:1-4 1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. TRUST in God; TRUST ALSO IN ME. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Jesus said, “Trust Me. I know what I am doing. I know where I am going. I know where you are going, and where you are headed is to be with Me forever. I’m simply going there first to get things ready and to point you to the way.”
Listen, the Resurrection gives us the biggest reason EVER to trust Jesus and to take Him at His Word. That was the biggest deal ever. It was the turning point in all of history. Over 500 eye witnesses saw Him after the Resurrection. There was physical evidence to back up the claim. To deny it is to deny hundreds of eye witnesses, physical evidence, and the willingness of His disciples to be killed for proclaiming it was true. As Dr. Simon Greenleaf, former Professor of Law at Harvard has said, “There is more evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus than for just about any other event in history.” (http://jewishroots.net/library/messianic/resurrection_fact_or_fiction.html)
Jesus didn’t just tell His followers to expect the crucifixion and resurrection, but He also told them what they could expect in eternity. And because He rose from the dead we can believe every promise He has made including what happens to us when we leave this life! We don’t have to be troubled. We don’t have to be afraid. He is preparing a place for His followers. He will make sure we get there!
“Well, Pastor Melissa, I can’t help how I feel.” You’re right. You can’t. But you can let your faith inform your feelings.If Jesus can overcome the grave, in His name, by His authority, and with His power, we can overcome distress, doubt, and depression. I am preaching truth this morning. Those three emotions really sum up about every other negative emotion. Anger could fit into the distressed category. Sadness could fit into the doubt category. Defeated could fit into the depressed category. But true disciples are willing to take Jesus at His Word in spite of how they feel.
A wonderful story to illustrate this principle is found in Luke 7:1-10 1 When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. 3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. 4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them. He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed.8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.
This centurion didn’t have to have Jesus physically present in order to witness a miracle. He didn’t have to see Jesus touch his servant in order to believe his servant would be healed. He just told the curriers of the message to tell Jesus to say the word, and he believed his servant would be healed. Wow! Even Jesus was amazed at the great trust this man had in the Word of Jesus. Through this story we see that real trust and real faith in Jesus is simply taking Him at His Word.
There was a time in Mark 4 where Jesus told His disciples they were all getting into a boat with Him, and they were going to the other side of the sea. They willingly climbed in the boat. That is good obedience, right there. That is faithfulness right there. They started to head to the other side. That is where Jesus had directed. A+ disciples. Way to follow Jesus’ words of instruction. But then, a storm arose, and naturally they were afraid. I would be afraid in a boat in a storm. Visions of Gilligan’s Island would dance in my head. J
It is natural to react with fear. But that initial reaction must be captured by faith in Jesus’ words or else fear will cause us to freak out and think something negative like the disciples did that day. Jesus had been sleeping in the boat during the storm and when the disciples woke him up they revealed how their emotions had led them to believe something terribly wrong, something much worse than the storm they were facing. They asked Jesus in Mark 4:38, “Jesus, don’t you care if we drown?”
How often does that happen? We become afraid in a situation and all of the sudden, nobody loves us. Nobody cares about us. Nobody wants to help us. Nobody is really a true friend, and we go on a Facebook deleting spree, eat a gallon of ice cream and pull the covers up over our eyes and cry in despair.
“Jesus, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus didn’t even dignify their question with a response. Instead, He said in Mark 4:40, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” He could have just as easily said, “I told you we were going to the other side. Do you think a storm will change My plans for you?”
And on the heels of this Mark 4 story, guess what the first verse of Mark 5 says, “They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.” Jesus’ word about going to the other side came to pass. The author wanted us to know Jesus’ word had been true.
Notice, Jesus didn’t say, “Why are you afraid?” to the disciples. He said, “Why are you SO afraid?” Jesus didn’t rebuke them for having a feeling! He rebuked them for allowing the feeling to take the lead in their lives to the point where it had overturned the authority of His words to them.
We were created to feel. We experience a lot about life through our emotional capacities. Jesus had feelings. He didn’t try to deny His feelings, but what He did with them was SO strategic. You remember that heart wrenching night in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before Jesus was arrested? He wasn’t cool as a cucumber. He wasn’t calm, cool and collected. What did Jesus do with His feelings? He took them to His Heavenly Father. He processed what He was dealing with in conversation with Father God.
Scripture tells us He was DISTRESSED! He was deeply troubled. He was in agony. He was overwhelmed. He was sorrowful. He was grieving to the point of death. You’ve heard that expression, “He grieved Himself to death.” That was Jesus’ emotional state in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was sweating what was ahead, so greatly that His sweat turned to drops of blood. Jesus didn’t sugar coat His feelings. He didn’t shrug His shoulders and tell the disciples in the Garden that He was fine. He let them see Him basically having an emotional breakdown! He asked God to change the plan! (Who will admit you’ve been there?) He asked God to change the circumstances. He asked God for a way out of suffering. He asked God for Plan B, but ultimately He let His faith inform His feelings.
He had always done the Father’s will. He had said the Father’s will was like food to Him. He had lived to obey the Father. The Father had never failed Him. Everything He asked Jesus to do was on purpose for a purpose, and it produced great fruit. He knew that in spite of what He was feeling about having to go to the cross that He could trust whatever the Father told Him to do.
I’m not telling you not to wrestle with your feelings. I’m not telling you that the storms of life won’t cause you to feel anxious. But I am telling you that if you will take those feelings to the Father in faith, He will give you perspective and victory so you don’t have to be SO distressed and full of so much doubt and SO depressed.
You see, trust isn’t a feeling. It is an action. It is a decision. It is an act of your will IN SPITE of how you feel. Trust says, “Even though I feel this way, I won’t give in to my feelings, but I will turn to my faith in Jesus to guide me out of this valley!”
There is a popular phrase in our culture today. It is “Everything happens for a reason.” I can get on board with that idea, but as a believer, I want to add this to it: “Everything happens for God’s reason.”We read in Romans 8:28 that all things will work in our lives for our good if we love God and are living as the called according to His purpose. Living according to His purpose includes taking Him at His word.
Listen, that tough thing you are enduring could very well be the springboard to a Resurrection experience in your life. Jesus had to go to the cross before He could experience the victory of the Resurrection. Rather than be overwhelmed by our feelings and mad about what we are going through, let’s exercise faith in prayer and start claiming victory over our circumstances and feelings.
How powerful would it be if we got on our knees and said things like:
Lord, use my depression to shape me into the image of Christ. Lord, use my job loss to help me look more like Jesus. Lord, use the challenges in my marriage to help us love each other the way Jesus loves us. Lord, use my disappointment about not making the team to fashion me into the kind of persevering person Jesus was. Lord, use my discouragement to move me on in my relationship with Jesus. Lord, use my sickness to make me a witness to my friends, family and neighbors.
The Bible promises that, for those of us who truly love God, everything that happens in our lives will have the effect of molding us into Christ’s image. We come out better because of the trial. It’s true even in the Resurrection. Jesus came out better! He went from a regular, ordinary human body, to the same body in a glorified state. Jesus could float through solid walls (John 20:19) after the Resurrection. Mark 16:12 tells us His glorified body could be disguised and take on different forms. Luke 24:36 says Jesus could just appear out of nowhere. And in His glorified body He could ascend through the atmosphere into Heaven without the need of a shuttle, oxygen, or anything to protect Him from the elements in the atmosphere.
What I am telling you is that Jesus had to trust the Word of the Father in order to experience Resurrection and Transformation, and if He did, then so do we.
You and I need to raise our respect for and commitment to the Word of God. We need to hold onto it, and expect Jesus to move in the ways He has promised to move in our lives. Doesn’t it amaze you how shocked the disciples were that Jesus actually rose from the dead? You see, it wasn’t until after the crucifixion that they really even had to exercise faith or learn to walk in faith. Until the crucifixion, Jesus was in their midst, holding their hand, telling them what to do every step of the way. They didn’t really have to follow in faith because they were following what they could see. They saw miracles, and they followed. They saw crowds growing, and they followed. They saw demons submit to Jesus, and they followed. Did they really need faith to believe it was a good thing to follow Jesus? They heard Him speak. He was brilliant. They saw Him perform miracles. He had wonder-working power. Did it really take a lot of faith to follow someone with His qualifications and abilities?
I say, “No.” Their faith had to kick in when they could no longer see Him face to face. Their faith had to kick in when He wasn’t present to speak, but His words that had been seared in their hearts and minds were still resounding in their ears. Would they believe Him when they couldn’t see Him?
Jesus’ followers were completely surprised by Jesus’ resurrection. Instead of standing in faith, they let fear distress them, doubt overtake them and depression discourage them. I don’t know what difficult situation you are enduring and how you are feeling about it, but I do know you can trust the promises of God, you can take your emotion to the Lord in prayer, and you can wait in faith believing that both Resurrection and Transformation are on their way into your life and the end result is that you will look more like Jesus in the end.
Jesus said He was leaving to prepare a place for us. He said He would make sure we join Him one day. There is no need to remain overwhelmed. If He said He would, you can count on it. The empty tomb is and the Risen Lord are the Living Proof His Word is GOOD! And one day, Jesus will return to take all who are in Him with Him to Heaven. Let’s not just live in light of the Resurrection, but let us live in light of the Return of Christ. He will come back. How do I know? He said He would!