Lifelines:

God has withheld nothing beneficial from His children. If anything is missing in our lives, it is not useful. “Every spiritual blessing,” is the way that the Lord describes it in His own words (Ephesians 1:3). He is indeed most extravagant. We rarely hear Him described in those terms, but no others accurately capture Him.

Without the grace of God life would be a dismal journey toward a miserable eternity. Escape from everlasting torment would be unavoidable. Thankfully, His grace is available and in liberal quantities. He generously grants massive amounts of it to those in His beloved Son (Eph. 1:6). Sin is indescribably destructive and mandates a radical cure. Grace is the only solution, and He is exceedingly generous with it.

Within that grace are all the blessings that our souls could ever hope for, and they are there in abundance. “Riches,” is the word that He uses (Eph. 1:7), and He bountifully extended those treasures to those of us who are in Christ. Inclusion into His family, a clean slate and treasures in heaven; all of sin’s consequences are erased by that single word: grace. He is no miser with it. It is a concept overflowing with riches, and He delivers them with a generous hand. Our mortal minds and human eyes can never see the overflowing nature of what we receive from our Lord. Extravagant? Beyond words.

It is not confined to grace. His extravagance extends to mercy, as well (Eph. 2:4). He has a wealth of it because His love is not ordinary but…you guessed it, extravagant. It is great, large, huge in fact, and He loved us with it. He loves us with an exorbitant love. The demonstration of its magnitude is seen in the sympathy that it extends to those in the clutches of transgressions, trespasses and sins. He reverses the effects. He gives life to the dead, raises them and places them to a seat of favor at His right hand because He is loaded with mercy. Now that is extravagance!

Words like “freely bestowed,” “riches” and “lavished” reveal a Father whose heart’s desire is to flood us with blessings. In a notoriously tight fisted world, His fist is extraordinarily loose. The Bible is filled from Genesis to Revelation with the notion: God is bigger than we can imagine and wants nothing more than to fill our hearts, souls, lives and eternities with good things. It is up to us whether we will accept them or not.

Call to praise: Psalm 110:1-5

His word on it: Psalm 106:7

Sermon: “The God Who Loves us”

Lifelines:

“Do you love Me?” That was the question that Jesus asked Peter not once or twice but three times (John 21:15-17). Surely the significance of that was not lost on the old fisherman. After all, he had denied the Lord an equal number of times. It grieved him to be quizzed in such a way, and the memories of that recent night must have lingered in his mind. How could anyone forget such a collapse under pressure?

The Lord was not surprised that Peter had withered when the heat was on. Jesus gave him advanced warning over the apostle’s protests (John 13:36-38). He was certain that he would put his life on the line if it came to that. How often do we think we will stand firm but fail? We have perfectly good intentions and enough self-confidence to truly believe that we can withstand any trial, but we do not. Welcome to Peter’s boat. The Lord knows us better than we know ourselves.

It was just about sunrise when the bottom fell out. It had been just a few hours since the gloomy prediction that Peter would not survive the night without disowning his Lord. He did not believe that he would, but he did, and just as he spit out the words a rooster crowed (Luke 22:61). Imagine what flashed through his mind at the sound of a barnyard bird. The raw memories were still fresh when Jesus posed the thrice asked question, “Do you love Me?”

The tears were bitter that Peter wept that morning (Luke 22:62). He had done precisely what he vowed that he would not do. At the exact moment that the third denial came out the Lord looked at him. What was that look like? Angry? Sad? Disappointed? Knowing? Loving? We have no evidence other than the statement, “The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” It stirred the memory of recently spoken words and the damn burst.

Did that look flash through Peter’s mind again when Jesus asked, “Do you love Me?”

There was no lecture after breakfast that morning, no scolding for his failure. The Savior wanted to know just one thing, “Do you love Me?” With rooster crows echoing in his ears, the look of a thrice denied Lord permanently etched in his memory and the stains of bitter tears fresh on his checks; he faced the question, felt the grief and offered the answer, “Yes, yes, yes.” The question begs an answer from each of us.

Lifelines:

In the predawn darkness of that first day of the week, Mary’s eyes told her something that her brain could not accept (John 20:1-ff). She had made her way to the tomb, and the stone was gone. Stunned, she hustled off to tell someone, anyone, what she had seen. Her mind could not digest it. The tomb was empty. The body had been….what? Stolen? A corpse cannot just get up and walk away, can it? All she knew was that it was no longer there and she wanted, no, demanded to know where it was.

The world changed that day. Mary was not the only one who was moved simultaneously with that rock. Others would follow her to that amazing sight; Peter, the disciple whom Jesus loved, even two angels shared the miracle of that moment. The news would spread like crazy. Eventually more than 500 hundred witnesses would lay their eyes on the one who had been crucified (1 Corinthians 15:6). An empty cave can really rearrange your thinking.

Jesus spoke of such an event before it ever happened. He told His disciples, but their grasp of it was not too clear (Luke 18:31-34). They had been with Him through miracles and teachings. They had watched Him heal the sick, calm the storm, feed the multitudes and raise the dead; but this one eluded them. Even with His explanations, they just did not get it until that stone was gone. Boy, they got it then alright, and the world has never been the same.

When the band of eleven sought a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:21-22), it was clear that their primary assignment was to bear witness to the risen Lord. Peter’s message that started the wheels in motion on the Day of Pentecost focused on the resurrection. His listeners had been prime instigators of the crucifixion, but they never expected the third day. Empty graves have a way of getting your attention. It sure got theirs.

The march continued from Jerusalem to the surrounding areas and eventually to you and me. Through the ages and around the globe, it remains the cornerstone of our faith. That rolled-away stone revealed the most amazing event ever. A crucified Savior has conquered death. He met it on His terms and emerged victorious. All doubts have been removed. He is alive and intercedes forever for His people. The Lord does not throw stones. He removes them.

Lifelines:

Imagine a life free of anxiety and stress. Seems impossible, does it not? Worry is simply a fact of life, or is it? Actually, it does not have to be. In fact, it is in violation of Biblical teaching (Philippians 4:6). Jesus said not to worry about this life (Matt. 6:25). So, why do we? Think about the source of our tossing and turning. What caused our insomnia a year ago? Five years ago? What became of those things, if we can even remember what they were? Fretting is among our most useless activities.

Consider the God Who loves us. Everything that we can see, He created by word of mouth in six days. In less than a week He spoke into existence the sun, moon, stars, animals, birds and fish. He took a hands-on approach to form humanity. We are the crowning achievement of His incredible creativity. “Very good,” He declared when it was all said and done (Genesis 1:31).

He knows us inside out (Psalm 139:1-6). He is aware of our every step. His mind examines ours. Our thoughts reverberate in His head. Our words echo in His ears before we ever say them. The all-powerful Lord of heaven and earth not only knows exactly what is going on with us but also what we need (Matt. 6:8). Couple His intimate knowledge of us and our necessities with His omnipotent capacity to provide, and worry is exposed as a really silly expenditure of energy.

If we have any doubt as to the extent of the concern that the Lord has for people, look to the cross. Think on that. In our dreadfully pitiful state of helplessness in the guilt of our sin, He sent His Son. He loves you and me that much. The all-knowing, all-powerful God has taken direct aim at sinful people as the targets of His perfect love. He spared nothing, not even His holy Son, to retrieve us from the trash heap. Now, what was that we were fretting about?

Today is Prodigal Son-day, a time to look deep within to see where we are on our journey into eternity. The immense love of the infinite God makes it possible for us to come home, even from the pigpen. An honest assessment might reveal a little prodigality within each of us, a heart that has begun to stray away from a Father who cares more than we can understand. Perhaps we are at a great distance, one that seems impossible to overcome. It is not. Wherever we are, His eyes are scanning the horizon in hopeful anticipation of one more sinner coming home. He has the banquet ready. Stop worrying and come home. Let the celebration begin.

Lifelines:

“It is finished,” were among the final words that Jesus uttered as life left Him (John 19:30). It was His doing. No one took it. He gave up His spirit. Human hearts rejected Him. Human minds formed the plot. Human hands drove the nails, but humans did not take His life. No, that was at the time that He chose, and it did not occur until everything had been done. The plan was completed. The Scripture was fulfilled, then He died and not a minute before.

The love of God sent the One who called Himself the Son of Man. Seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10) was the passion that ultimately consumed Him. It started simply among the animals and ended brutally on a cross. His roots are improbable. His family tree included the good and the bad, but mostly the unknown. He selected an unlikely group of fishermen and tax collectors but mostly, you guessed it, the unknown. To them He handed off the mission of searching for lost folks who want to be disciples but not before He finished what He came to do.

Sin. That is what it was all about. It wrecks everything that it touches, and He came to take it away (John 1:29). This was no band-aid approach. It was a cure, a remedy for everyone who accepts it. He was not just a role model; He was that and more. He was a Savior. Our sins were charged to His account, and He paid the price. This was no partial answer. It was a total cleansing flood of blood to remove it totally. The love of God is amazing. “It is finished,” screams of mission accomplished.

It had all the appearances of defeat. It was not. As He hung suspended between heaven and earth, He was conquering the one who seemingly had the upper hand (Hebrews 2:14). He stepped up to and through the whole experience. His innocence was evident to Pilate and Herod (Luke 23:14-15). His righteousness was obvious to the centurion who watched Him die (Luke 23:47). He completed the sinless life to be the perfect sacrifice for our sin. It was finished, done, completed. Then He hung His head and gave up His spirit.

A lingering look at that event ought to sink deep into our hearts. It is the ultimate expression of just how much the Lord loves us. It was not because we were strong and righteous. We were anything but (Romans 5:6-10). Yet, He took this remarkable action to make a way for us to come back to Him. Blood dripped from the whips and rolled from His body. His love held Him there until it was finished.

Lifelines:

It is hard to imagine a more serene setting than a garden. It conjures up images of blooming plants and all that is beautiful in the creation of God. It all began in just such a location. Eden equates to paradise in our minds. Indeed, all was exactly as the Lord intended until the encounter with the serpent. Temptation is in that garden, too.

Dangling a piece of tempting fruit proved to be the devil’s most powerful weapon and the first lady’s downfall. People have been falling down ever since. Expulsion from that ideal locale was the obvious penalty for their rebellion, but the fruits of that deadly seed were more dramatic than that. Remember the warning. Death was immediate if not apparent.

Jesus made His way into a garden of His own (Mark 14:32-42). Peter, James and John were along, but the pressure was on the Lord. Distressed, troubled, nearly grieved to death; He went to pray. He would be dead soon, executed for our crimes, but first He would appeal to His Father. Luke tells us that Jesus was in such unspeakable agony that it even affected His metabolism (22:44). So much for the peace and tranquility of the garden. It was disrupted by His impending ordeal.

As for His disciples, His closest companions, they slept. If He looked to them for comfort and support, He was surely disappointed. Of course, He knew. He was fully aware of their shortcomings, and this came as no surprise to Him. We could not possibly comprehend what He went through. Friends dozing. A cross waiting. Enemies coming. The hour had come. The end was near. Judas led the mob. Jesus stood to be betrayed by a kiss from an supposed friend. Welcome to His garden.

We frequently find ourselves in a garden of our own. It may not have flowers and trees, but it is teeming with temptation. A twenty-first century serpent dangles a modern day piece of fruit in front of our face, and it is decision time. A difficult mission that we would really rather avoid faces us, another tough choice. We make our way through those challenging days with one simple question: Whose will shall we do? In our garden is where we decide.