What do you believe about the Easter story? About the claim that a man named Jesus was crucified and raised to life three days later? What you believe about Jesus is the most important thing about you. It will determine whether life on this earth is your heaven or your hell. Which is it for you?

Scripture References: John 6 , Genesis 3 , 2 Corinthians 4

Todd Wagner

About Todd Wagner

In 1999, a group of friends and I desired to be the same awe-inspiring community that we saw in the Scriptures and to connect God's people with opportunities to know... Read more

Message Transcript
Father, we love you. We thank you that we can stand here and say that you are our salvation. You have saved us, not according to deeds which we have done in righteousness but according to your mercy, and now that mercy is our song, by the washing of the power of the resurrection, the regeneration that your Spirit produces, and by the renewing of your Spirit. Father, we pray that you would renew us today, that you would strengthen our hearts, that you would teach us things that are true wherever we are. I pray for my friends who are here who don't really understand why we sing the way we just did. I pray that something would happen today where they would gain a clarity about the story anchored in history that we got a chance to tell through song. I pray you'd tell it again through your Word and they would understand more of why we sing. Not just chorally like this but why our lives sing, that mercy is our song and it changes the way we live. Would you produce that? Lord, let us not be a church that gathers and walks out of here and goes right back to our dead living. May we be people who carry the power of the resurrection out and it changes our families and our communities and our world. Lord, teach us. Remind us now who you want us to be and draw us to you if we don't know. Be glorified as we listen to your Word. In Jesus' name, amen. Welcome, guys. It's such a privilege to talk about this story, this story that helps us make sense of the world we're living in. Let me start by saying this. This world doesn't make a lot of sense. We say we have a God who is good. He's the God of our salvation, and this world is jacked up. Right? We don't have to pretend it's not, because our God explains why the world is the way it is. Some people say to me, "Todd, if God is good, he would do something about evil. If God was powerful, he _could_ do something about evil. Evil still exists; therefore, God is either not good or God is not powerful." That's the way the syllogism goes…except it doesn't consider everything. It doesn't consider the fact that God explains why evil is here. He tells us it's here because we don't think God is good, so we leave him and go our own way, and when we go our own way, apart from the God who is life-giving, we bring forth death. Do you think the world is broken? We do. So does God. That's why he has done something about it. That's what this whole thing is about. God is saying, "Listen. It's April 21, 2019. That date means something." It means there was a January 1 when it started to become the year of our Lord when God did something about the brokenness in the world. Some people just call it a _Common Era_, but they're ignoring the fact that something very uncommon happened, that a man came and lived among us. This isn't just the eyewitness accounts of those that have been preserved in what we call the Bible, which, by the way, is not a collection of stories or philosophies; it is a book anchored in the context of history where God dares to show you how he has been working inside the framework of humanity. It's not just poetry or ideas or philosophy; it's history with God working in it. God worked in it uniquely in the person of a man named Jesus, who many non-biblical eyewitnesses and early historians acknowledge existed. In fact, so much so that people who study ancient history would say there is no event in ancient history that is as verifiable that it happened as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Don't you think that's kind of the way it should be? If there is a God and he does love us and he wanted to go, "Hey, guys, this one is different; pay attention here," don't you think he wouldn't have just made him a great teacher, a person of great influence? Don't you think he would have said, "Note: if you don't believe his words, follow his works, and if you don't like his works, watch this _one_ work, because he's going to be the only guy who shatters this thing called death"? The statistics for death are rather impressive if you haven't looked. Statisticians have studied this recently, and they've noticed that for every one person born there's a corresponding person who dies. It's like one for eight billion, or however many people have been on earth up to this moment…except for this one guy, because he wasn't just a guy. He said he was very God of very God. There's a guy like me who came to understand that story, and he wanted to tell as many people as he could about it, so he traveled around. He didn't just hang out in one place and share it with friends; he went all across Asia. He went across the Aegean Sea, and he hung out in Greece for a while. He came across a historical town that's still there today called Corinth. His name was Paul. He actually wrote several letters to this town, we know from history, probably four. Two of them have been preserved for us, and one is called 2 Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says, "Therefore…" He says that because earlier in his letter he basically wrote the story we just sang. God has done something about the jacked-up world you're in. He has done something about the brokenness of humanity. He has made a way for broken humanity to move back into relationship with him. God loves you, folks. He's not angry. He just wants to restore you and bring you out of this darkness and this death. So Paul said to those friends, "Therefore, in light of your understanding this and believing it…" He said, "Therefore, since you now have this ministry, as we receive mercy, make mercy your song, and don't lose heart." "Grieve, for sure, but don't grieve as those who have no hope," he wrote a little bit later to folks north of there in Thessalonica. Because you know something now. This world has some real pain in it. You still have to watch yourself, though, when you use certain words and certain language, because we say things like, "This is hell on earth." Have you ever said that? "This is hell on earth." Or sometimes you maybe say the corresponding opposite, which is, "This is a little bit of heaven. This is the world the way it should be. This is heaven on earth." Well, let me tell you something. Hell on earth and heaven on earth are just Photoshopped images of the real thing. I purposely grabbed some Photoshopped pictures of heaven on earth, but we don't have to Photoshop anything about hell. Even these images that are real about the hell on earth we experience are really just Photoshopped images of hell, and I'll explain why. But there's some hell that can make you lose heart. Hunger, poverty…that's a little hell on earth. Kids die, malnourished. War…that's hell on earth. About 20-some-odd years ago, in Central Africa, a whole nation went to war against itself for no other reason except hate, and in 100 days, almost a million Rwandans lost their lives, literally, physically, at the hands of other Rwandans. _Newsweek_ covered this and said "Hell on earth." Fast-forward 20 years, and you have the ISIS caliphate and the corrupt understanding of God that has brought about a different kind of hell. National Geographic says _this_ is hell on earth. What's happening there in Asia and specifically centered in Syria…_that's_ hell on earth. You don't have to look long. If you just opened up your paper today or turned your phone on, you would see there's a different kind of hell in Sri Lanka this morning. Over 200 people have lost their lives. Hundreds more have been injured. Terrorists continue to try and intimidate people into silence by unleashing a little bit of hell, but these are just shadows of hell. There are a lot of malnourished people, but there are also folks who do what they can to feed them. There are hunger programs. The nations move to do what we can and to care for one another. There's a means through which we can combat temporary hunger. It's a problem, and we need to go after it. In war there are nations that rise up against tyrants and people who are murderous toward their folks, and they move in. We've gotten rid of the chaos that was in Rwanda. Now it's a peaceful land. I've been there to teach reconciliation and forgiveness and put that nation back together. Rwanda is a place that, today, while there's still tension, is largely defined by peace. The ISIS caliphate has been driven out. It doesn't exist anymore. The hatred that informed it still certainly does, but the nations have moved. I know already they've arrested seven people in Sri Lanka, and national systems of justice are mightily at work to try and reduce some of that hell. Even those who are suffering today in the hell that was in Sri Lanka, if they know Jesus they will grieve the loss of their loved ones, but they will grieve with hope. Those who knew Jesus who lived through the hell of that explosion are no longer in a shadow of hope; they're living in the reality of it, while others are living in a different kind of reality. When Paul was writing to his friends, he said, "This message we have, this treasure that is the story of hope…" It exists in what he called _earthen vessels_. "…so that the surpassing greatness of God would be known and the power of God would be known. Not in ourselves," Paul said, "but that it would be known as it works in and through us." He said, "There is trouble here. We are afflicted in every way, but we're not crushed. We're perplexed, but we're not despairing. We're persecuted but not forsaken. We're even struck down," Paul said, some believers already in that day and age, "but we're not destroyed. You can take us out, but you're not going to destroy the message we have. Those of us who are alive are going to live for Christ, always carrying about in our bodies the message of God. The dying of Jesus lives in us. It's no longer us who live, but Christ lives in us. So if we have power, we use it to serve people. If we have resources, we don't increase our comfort; we increase our generosity. We don't become slaves to lust. We abstain from them, because we don't want to be people who bring destruction to others." He goes on to summarize in verse 12. "We're going to let the death to our flesh work in us, if you will, so that life can work in you." See, that's the reason God has left believers here who know this song on this Photoshopped… What I mean by that is the shadow of hell. This is not the fullness. This world is not as it should be. Do you believe the world is broken? We do. But this world has hope embedded in it. What's crazy is there are some people who think it's hope enough. There are some people who would say, "You know what? I kind of like my little earth. Todd, you can have your little God myth if you want to, but I'm doing just fine. When I die, I'll just move on and go to soul sleep. I'll eternally be annihilated or I'll just go back and become food for the worms. That's just my worldview." That's fine if it's your worldview, but it doesn't mean it's true. What I'm telling you is true. There's a man who came who said what's true is that all men will be resurrected, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting judgment. If you're a believer, if you're somebody like Paul who society doesn't like, if you're somebody like Jesus who was struck down but not destroyed, you realize you're here in a world that has left God and gone its own way to have the dying of Christ living inside of you so others can know the love of God. This is your hell. This is your moment where you're away from home with disease and death and war and wheelchairs, but it's not really hell. It's what he will say in a moment, in verse 17, is a temporary and light affliction. What we have coming is a surpassing glory, far beyond anything we can imagine. Believers, don't lose heart. Don't lose heart. That's what the resurrection and Easter is all about. We are people of hope. This is just a shadow of suffering, and we don't want to focus on it. Focus on your coming hope. Those of us who are living that way, and death works in us so life can work in the life of our friends… What we mean is we _are_ trying to feed you in your hunger. We're trying to counsel you in your pain. We're trying to comfort you in the way that has seemed right to you but has ended in death. We're trying to suggest a better worldview. We're not trying to impose our ideas on you; we're trying to propose a better way. You may not like it. You may say, "Don't tell me what to do with my sexuality. Don't tell me what to do with my morality system." You might try and strike us down. You might do everything you can to bring sorrow and sadness into our lives, but we know that's just part of the job. What our Savior went through is what his people will probably go through. We're not going to lose heart, because we know the end of the story. You, on the other hand, better get all of your little Photoshopped heaven that you can, because this is as good as it gets. If you're here and you don't know Jesus, this is your heaven. This brokenness, this world is your heaven. Let's just acknowledge there are some moments here that work out kind of well for you. Have you ever been on a beach and the sun is setting and there are your friends? You have the right beverage in your hand, and the world is all as it should be. You go, "Man! It's a little bit of heaven." You're right. It's a little bit of heaven, but guess what. That ocean sometimes swells, and it brings forth water and runs over your fire and floods your cities. That heaven doesn't last. It's fleeting. Maybe you have family around you, and you've gathered together, and there's just a little bit of sanity for a moment. You're getting along. The dysfunction hasn't made its way yet to your table. There's bounty and there's food. But then you get hungry again and family gets crazy, like every family gets crazy. While there was a little bit of heaven for a moment, it's sure not enduring heaven always. Or how about you're in that moment where you have that strong arm around you finally and there's a place for you to sit or you're that strong arm and there's a sweet-smelling head of hair right there nestled in that little crook of your neck, and you're no longer distressed on Valentine's Day. You're not sad. "Single Awareness Day." That's Valentine's Day. You're like, "No. There's heaven now. I actually have a valentine. I'm not sad." You go, "It's a little bit of heaven. I'm kind of there." But you know that all human relationships, while they're a gift, don't ultimately satisfy you. Often, they become our biggest part of hurt, because God says, "Until you learn to love me, you're not going to learn to love each other. Nobody can fill that God-shaped vacuum in your heart except me." God has done something incredibly merciful. That is, he has brought into our departure from him death. You go, "Wait. Todd, that doesn't seem right. What do you mean God brought into our departure from him death?" Well, this is what I mean. Think about the fact that we had an opportunity to decide, knowing we have left God, if you will, if God hadn't prevented us, we could have continued to choose to eat from the Tree of Life. So here's the story. When God created us, he didn't create us with wheelchairs and war and disease and death and divorce. In the beginning, man lived in fellowship with God, and God said, "I'm good. Everything around you testifies to the fact that I'm good." It was edenic. Men walked with God, and men loved God. We were naked and unashamed because we weren't self-focused, and we enjoyed one another. All was as it should be, because God was here and we were being saved and perfection was being preserved through him. But he warned us. He goes, "Listen. You need to believe that I'm good and that I'm God, that my Word is true, and that disobeying me is a really big deal. If you ever want to say you don't love me, you could just go over there and say you want to make decisions on your own apart from me." It was represented in a tree called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. You need to know that some of the things we call _evil_ in this world are not really the evil God is concerned about. Divorce is a bad thing, but it's not the primary sin in Scripture. Sexual perversion in all forms is not the primary evil. Addiction, pornography… Just plug in your little favorite petty sin that you love to elevate…materialism, gossip, backbiting, anger, pride. None of those sins are the sins that bring the judgment of God on us. Those are just symptoms of the one sin that says, "God, we don't need you. We're going to do what we want to do when we want to do it. We'll decide what's right, and we'll decide what's wrong. We don't think you're good. We don't think your Word is true. We don't think disobeying you is that big of a deal." God says that sin brings about judgment. If God defines himself as life (and he does) and light (and he does) and love (and he does), then removing yourself from the God who is light and life and love will bring about darkness and hatred and war and death. But in knowing that we rebelled against God and we would go our own way, God said, "Okay. I'm not going to let you live that way forever. You _are_ going to die. Judgment will come on you." It says in the Scriptures, in Genesis 3:24, God drove the man out, and to the east of the garden of Eden he stationed a cherubim with a flaming sword which turned every direction to guard us from eating to live forever in this shadow of now hell. Why do I call it a shadow? Because God was still there. He drove us out of the perfection that submission to him brings. Here, in fact, is an artist's rendition of that, where the glory is now protected, if you will, with that angel, and the clothed and mercifully provided-for man and woman were driven out to go and till the earth that was now cursed and to bring forth children who were children of the curse and so would bring sadness to future generations. God still kept pursuing them and said, "Do you want your way back to Eden? Do you want to come back to me? Well, I'll make a way, but it's not going to be through your own works, because you can't take on the justice and holiness of God. I'm not going to let you live forever. I'm going to let you experience physical death and decay." It's merciful. I don't know about you, but I don't want to live forever here. I want to go home. We're all going home. We're going to go home, and when we go home we're going to meet this risen King, because Jesus isn't dead. He's not just a story; he is alive, and he has told us that he is returning quickly. In fact, at the very end of this book… We're now moving from Genesis 3 all the way to Revelation 22, where in the middle of that is the story of Good Friday and Easter. Jesus says, this God who is resurrected, who's alive… **"Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done."**"I am the beginning (genesis). I am the end. Here's the revelation. You need to know this about me. You're going to hail me, and you're going to acknowledge me for who I am. If you want to live in your rebellion right now, I'm letting you have a little bit of your run of the roost right now. If you want to drink yourself and sex yourself and delude yourself into it being enough of a heaven, that's fine, but you're going to find out that all of those things are even my provision and grace here, and I will one day let you have what you're asking for, which is a place that you can reign where there will be nothing that will ever remind you of me again." This is what it says in John 5:24. This is why we sang today, because John 5:24 is true. **"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me** [the Father] **…does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life."** That's really, really good news. The word _believe_ there doesn't just mean you intellectually embrace the idea. People say what they think, but they do what they believe. The word _believe_ there means if now you know God is good and his Word is true, you run hard after him, and you carry about in yourself now the dying of Jesus so you can live in a way that isn't going to earn your salvation but is going to show and prove that your belief that God is good is evidenced now by the way you live. Watch what he says a little bit later in verses 28 and 29, just a few verses down. Jesus says, "Truly, truly…" "This is true. Don't marvel at what I'm about to tell you here, for an hour is coming in which everyone in every tomb will hear his voice." That's everyone. "They will come forth, and those who did good will come forward to a resurrection of life, and those who did evil to a resurrection of judgment." You're like, "Wow! What do you mean? Todd, do you mean that…?" First of all, it's not Todd; it's Jesus, the one who's raised from the dead, who said he's the very God of very God. He just says, "Yeah, you'd better do the works you're supposed to do." The good news is right after this some people heard Jesus say this and went, "What works should we do?" and in John, chapter 6, Jesus responds. He says, "This is the work you should do, that you should believe in the one he has sent, the one who is eternal and perfect and holy who can satisfy the eternal, perfect, holy wrath of God." "You should trust in me," Jesus says. "I'm the way, the truth, and the life. I'm the one who can disarm the angel and get you back, because God's justice has been satisfied if you trust in it, but if you just trust in your own good works and your own effort, that'll never save you. That'll never get the job done for you, because my standard is perfection. This is not a perfect world, and you're part of the imperfect problem. Just acknowledge that you're in a mess because you've left me. Receive mercy, and then make mercy your song." Let me clarify this very quickly with two stories. First, you had to be completely asleep this week if you didn't notice there was a building that was on fire across the pond, Notre Dame, the church of our lady, which is a problem in and of itself. There should never be a church named after anybody or _for_ anybody other than the one who is our salvation. I've been to Notre Dame. I've stood out in front of it. Notre Dame is a place that because it was built in 1163, it was used as a structure that people could learn from. They could see the grandeur of God in the way it was built. It _is_ a beautiful building, but outside of it there was actually what's called _Liber pauperum_, which means Book of the Poor. Most of the world was illiterate at that time and couldn't read, so what they did is they told stories. Here's a picture of an arch right when you walk into this particular facility. You'll see a cloud of witnesses around Jesus there, and then you look underneath Jesus and see a parade of people under there at the left, and in a minute I'll show you the figure who's on the side. You see a parade of people on the right with a rope around them being led away. They are telling a story to illiterate people. This is the story that was wrongly told inside that building. It's a tragedy that that building was burned, but it's not a tragedy that this theology was. This is specifically a church that was influenced out of Rome that taught that Jesus died so you could add to what he had done and stay related to the church. The church held the keys, and if you did what the church told you to do they would offer you a chance to heaven. If you didn't get enough done, you would go live in purgatory, and people could light candles and pray and give gifts to the pope and eventually spring you out of purgatory. That, my friends, is heresy, and it needs to be burned. Here's what _Liber pauperum_ told. You zoom in on that little picture right there, and you see the archangel Michael. He is holding a scale. On the other side of that is a representation of the Enemy. What you see is there's a group of people there who are on the left side who are praising God because the scale is tilted in their favor, not because of their faith in Christ but because their works were enough. There is nothing in this book that says if your works are enough you will be sprung to heaven. What that church should have been celebrating is the fact that there is a God who has crashed into the despair of earth and made provision for sinners like me and that an understanding that you're saved by grace through faith…that faith will be evidenced in the way you work out your salvation with fear and trembling. I was sharing this with a friend not long ago. I was at a table with some friends, and we were doing what we always do, which is having a good time together and loving the people who were serving us and sometimes even folks who are around us. Our waitress noticed the way we were hanging out with one another, and she said, "Hey, you guys look like you're having a good time. This has been fun serving you tonight." That gave us a chance to talk to her about why our relationships are different and say, "We didn't used to have this kind of fellowship. We didn't have this kind of care for one another. We didn't used to make the people who served us thankful, but we're so glad you are. Can we tell you why our lives have changed?" She goes, "Well, sure." So we began to share a little bit of the story I've been sharing with you. She goes, "Oh no. I'm an atheist." I said what I usually say when people say that to me. I said, "Well, Darcy, why don't you tell me what kind of god you don't believe in, and I probably don't believe in him either. What kind of god don't you believe in? A god who would have a dysfunctional organization that would basically intimidate and hold people under a false standard of righteousness and legalism, that eventually maybe they could possibly get in, and, frankly, the god who is there is going to try and rip you off and create you one way and make you do something else? Is that the god you don't believe in? Because that's not the God I know. Has anybody ever told you about the God who has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ in the Scripture?" I just told her. I said, "He loves you, Darcy. He died for my sins. He died for your sins. The things that are in your life that are sinful aren't even the sins. Those are just the results of you rejecting the goodness of God. Has anybody ever told you about the kindness of your Father?" She said, "You know what? I didn't have a good father. I didn't have a good representation of what he was like." She said, "But at least when I burn in hell I'll be there with my friends." What would you have said to Darcy? I'll tell you what _I_ said. I go, "Oh, sister, you're smarter than that, aren't you? See, this is your heaven, Darcy, and because it's your heaven God's grace is a little bit at work here. Part of what God does is God in his kindness gives us friends. In fact, he has given you me right now. I'm being a friend to you, and I'm going to tell you the truth. A friend speaks the truth in love. So let me just tell you, Darcy, there are no friends in hell. James 1:17 says, 'Every good gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.' Everything from God is good. Darcy, do you think friends are good? Is that why you want to be in hell with them? Well, there's not going to be anything to remind you of your good Father in hell. This is what hell is like." I said this to her. "Hell is a place, Darcy, not where there's hunger and war and disease and betrayal. _This_ is hell. It's where you're away from the presence of God and the glory of his power, and friends are a part of God's glory. So is sex, Darcy. It's his gift. So are drugs, Darcy, when they're sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. So I don't know what your hell is going to have, but it's not going to have Coronas and friends and campfires. You need to realize it's not going to get better. And you know what? There's not even any death. That decay that's happening in your body, that sag in your skin that you don't like? That's God letting you know it's not working out for you, and he loves you. So, Darcy, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you die, and when you die, after this comes judgment, but you need to know something. God loves you enough to take your judgment for you. That's the Father you need to know. That's the story of my King. We're just trying to love each other the way he loved us, and that's why we're trying to love you." She looked at me and goes, "Well, you just ruined my hell." I said, "Well, I'm trying to keep you out of that hell that doesn't exist." Let me commend to you my Jesus, who will bring you into the full reality of heaven and can rescue you from this Photoshopped image of heaven and hell that is pacifying you. See, this is not just some little game we're playing. This either happened or it didn't. This is either true or it's false. Wake us up. Wake us up if we're deluded, but let me tell you something. You'd better wake up and stop being deceived if it's true. Do your work to determine if this resurrection is really something that is the most verifiable fact in all of recorded history. I think it is. I've done my work, as have many atheists who sought to disprove the faith who now follow this Jesus and hail him as King. There are two kinds of people in the world. It's not those who will be resurrected and those who won't. We're all going to be resurrected, some to life and some to judgment. There are two kinds of people: those who will hail King Jesus now and say, "Now, God, you're good; your will be done," and those to whom God will one day say, "You didn't think I was good? Your will be done. There wasn't enough hell on earth for you while I maintained my grace but still let you reap what you sow? I'm going to give you all of it." But God would love to rescue you from it. God has given us this ministry. That's why we sang before you. That's why, if we're believers, we're going to walk out of here, and mercy is going to be our song, and we're going to carry about in ourselves the dying of Jesus that others may know this. We're not going to relate to other people in a way that our flesh wants to; we're going to be people of the Spirit, and we're going to be a testimony to the kingdom of God that's coming. We're not going to be surprised that we're not home yet, because we _know_ we're not home. This is a Photoshopped version of hell because God is restraining it. We're going to tell people that are in some Photoshopped version of heaven that there's a better heaven, and we're going to invite them in. That's what we do. So if you're here, come, so that one day God won't say to you, "Your will be done." Father, I pray that there wouldn't be a single person in this room who would trifle with the idea of the cross and the resurrection but they would run to you in all of your glory and would see that you love us and provide for us and that you have done everything necessary for us to be delivered from judgment. O Lord, would you rescue us from some small-minded view that you're some pithy god made in our image who demands that people serve you and if they serve you well enough long enough you'll accept us? No. We know, Lord, that you're holy and you demand holy perfection and we don't have it, but I thank you that you have given us something to sing about, one who is due all glory and honor and power, one whose name is holy, whose name is Jesus, who you made sin to become sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him. O Father, would you let people's knees bow now in humility so they won't bow in the force of your kingship? Lord, we love you and we thank you that we got to have another Easter together, that you tarried in your patience so that none should have to perish that way. Would you help us stop playing games, singing songs, and either carry about in our bodies the death of Jesus so that others may know life or, Father, be gracious and make my little friends here who are eating and drinking merry, but tomorrow they die and face judgment, have a little bit of Photoshopped heaven before they meet the reality of their rebellion. We praise you because you're a King who loves. Help us to remind each other of that now, amen.