Pastor Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Community Lutheran Church; Easter Message; Date: 12 April 09

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Hard To Get


Pastor: “The Lord is risenCongregation: “He is risen indeedPastor: “The Lord is risenCongregation: “He is risen indeedEaster Sunday is a good day because on this day we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. We feel joy. There is hope. Death – decay – this curse on the human race and all of creation – has been overcome. Jesus conquered the grave. Three days after he died on a cross, he rose to eternal life. He is our Lord. He is our Saviour. He is alive.

Are you happy? Yes, we are. There is no better news available anywhere. Hear this. I read from the Bible – Colossians 1:18-23 (the message of salvation): “ … [Jesus Christ] is … the firstborn from among the dead … God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel … “

Jesus made peace between God and us and he did so through his blood, shed on a cross. We no longer have to be alienated from God. We no longer have to suffer the consequences of sin. No matter what may have happened in our lives – no matter what we may be ashamed of – Jesus made peace with God – for us – through his holy blood. By his sacrifice – on account of him – as a free gift – we are declared to be holy in the sight of God, without blemish and free from accusation. Do we know how precious this is? And this is for everyone – as the Bible says – “if we continue in our faith that takes hold of him, established and firm, not moved from the hope that we have in Jesus”.

Do we want this – faith in Jesus, peace with God, hope and eternal life? Do we want the message of Easter Sunday: “The Lord is risen. He is risen indeedNot all of us are saved yet. You may be here this morning and you may know the story and you may know that Easter Sunday is important for Christians but somehow you are not yet impacted by the risen Jesus himself. You attend church – maybe every now and then – but somehow – so far – you fail to connect with God. If that is you, why is this so? In a way this is frustrating for me as a pastor. I know that I know that Jesus rose from the dead but as much as I can share with you what I know – and what others here know – Jesus will not present himself to you as the object of some sort of cheap and desperate sales’ pitch. Even this morning Jesus is offering you the free gift of salvation but not without testing you in the process – whether you really want what cost Jesus his life. The gift is free but not cheap.

When you think about it, God could have produced a video of the resurrection – a modern blue-ray DVD – with different camera angles – only available to angels – and he could have made all of us watch exactly what happened – and thus he could have forced us to accept him and thank him and submit to him. However, this would have been more our idea of reaching out. [Also, we would have liked the resurrection accounts in the Bible to have more of a forensic feel and scholarly impact.] We tend to think that we have to make the Christian faith as easy as possible for people – don’t put anything on them – don’t say too much about effort and obedience and sacrifice. However, God knows what peace with him is worth and he knows what honour is due to him and therefore he has other ideas.

Even this morning the offer of salvation is there for all of us but not without us pursuing it. Let me illustrate what I mean. On the very day that he was raised from the dead, Jesus met up with two of his disciples who were walking to a village called Emmaus – about seven miles from Jerusalem. He joined them but – so the Bible says – “they were kept from recognizing him”. Therefore, instead of an easy joyful reunion (high fives with Jesus) there was a serious conversation. The disciples shared their disappointment with this unknown companion and said – Luke 24:20-21: “ … they crucified him [Jesus]; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel … “ Yet, this companion on the road replied with these words – Luke 24:25-26: “ … How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe … Did not the Christ have to suffer and then enter his glory? And beginning with the Books of Moses, and going through all the Prophets, he pointed out everything in the Scriptures that referred to him

Then – conversing in this manner – the three of them approached the village where the two disciples were going and at this critical juncture – before anything else had happened – take note of this – according to the Bible – Luke 24:28: “Jesus acted as if he were going farther.” “Jesus acted as if he were going fartherWhat is this? Why would Jesus play these games? The teaching on the road was good and later the disciples would say: “ … our hearts were burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to usYet – for all of their hearts burning – they still had no idea about who was walking with them and now there was this risk that they would never know. “Jesus acted as if he were going fartherBut – so the Bible informs us – they responded how God wants all of us to respond – Luke 24:29: “ . they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.” At last, this happened – Luke 24:30-31: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him … “

This is not an isolated story. On another occasion the disciples were in a boat in the middle of a lake. Jesus saw them from the shore and he saw – Mark 6:48: “ ... the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against themThe disciples were doing it tough. They were battling the elements and they did so for hours but Jesus took his time in coming to help them and when he came – again take note of this – Mark 6:48-50: “ … he came towards them walking on the lake, as if intending to pass them … “ “ … as if intending to pass them … “ Why would Jesus play these games? This is playing “hard to get”. What if we don’t cry out? What if we don’t seize the moment of his passing and take hold of him?

Jacob was still another man in the Bible who at first experienced God as an enemy. He wrestled all night with – what he thought was – a stranger (it seemed to be a life and death encounter) and only towards morning did he realize that it was God. Then he seized the opportunity and said to God – Genesis 32:26: “ … I will not let you go unless you bless meGod replied – Genesis 32:28: “ … you have struggled with God … and overcomeStrange. Why would God want us to struggle with him? Why is it not easier to be blessed?

One more illustration. Three weeks ago Pastor Les Holmes preached on 2 Kings 2 (verses 1-18) and said that this was a message for Living Grace in the current season. God had commanded the prophet Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor and – after having served Elijah for a good while – Elisha wanted to be blessed by Elijah before the prophet would be taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. In fact this is what he requested – 2 Kings 2:9: “ … [Elijah,] let me inherit a double portion of your spiritYet, Elijah did not at all seem interested. When he went with Elisha to Gilgal, he told him to stay there because he himself needed to go to Bethel. But Elisha said – 2 Kings 2:2: “ … As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you … “ Then in Bethel Elijah commanded to Elisha to stay there because he himself needed to go to Jericho. Yet Elisha resisted with the same words – 2 Kings 2:4: “ … As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you … “ In Jericho Elijah again tried to shake off Elisha, saying – 2 Kings 2:6: “ … Stay here; the Lord has sent me to JordanAnd again Elisha replied – 2 Kings 2:6: “ … As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you … “ This would almost be comical, if it was not so serious. Elisha needed to persist – overcome the hostile attitude of Elijah – so that he would be with him when he was taken up to heaven because only then would he inherit a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Why was the run-around necessary? Why was the blessing not more easily attained? If this is a message for Living Grace, why do we need to keep going – persevere – and remain hungry for more of God?

Is this what you expected from God on Easter Sunday: “He is risen. He is risen indeedOnly you can miss him and the wonder of his resurrection, if you don’t urge him to come into your life – like the disciples strongly urged Jesus to stay with them.

Again – why is this so? God is testing your desire. The gift of salvation is free but not cheap. God knows what peace with him is worth and he knows what honour is due to him. He even counsels us that when we are sharing the good news with others – the holy message of salvation – we are not to throw our pearls to pigs. Jesus said – Matthew 7:6: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs … “ If we think that we can do without God, then he says: “Okay. Have it your wayGod is God and he knows that he is worth a little effort on our part. He is testing your desire and how much you are willing to sacrifice for a life with him. Jesus is speaking to all of us when he said – Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it

More than anything God wants to be desired by you. Jesus was asked – Mark 12:28: “ … Of all the commandments, which is the most importantHe answered – Mark 12:30: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strengthGod wants our hearts to be consumed with passion for him – desire for him – a yearning for him.

However, before anyone misunderstands, let me say that God knows our limitations – the selfish hearts. He is under no illusion about the corruption in our lives – the fickle loyalties. God is not asking for perfection from those that seek him. Nevertheless – prompted by his Spirit – as much as is possible – testing us to the limits of what we can handle – he does and is playing “hard to get”. It may be a grade one test – beginner’s stuff – but it is still a testing of our desire for him. For instance, he may want to see whether you are put off by an altar call which is an invitation to respond publicly to the message of salvation. Will you give in to feelings of shyness and embarrassment or will you be desperate enough and honour God by declaring publicly that you need him? God is not reluctant to test you like this.

But there is more. When God is playing “hard to get” with us, he is also testing our humility. Are you humble enough to seek him? If you don’t get the Easter message in one Sunday service, are you willing to stick around – are you willing to search for God with all of your might – or are you too proud to ask for directions.

God is testing whether our proud hearts get offended at him because the truth is also that we don’t like standing in queues. We have become used to instant customer service – we’ve become such demanding consumers – that we expect the same royal treatment from God (“Serve me, God”) but he won’t comply and therefore we are wont to complain: “How can Jesus play hide and seek with us? Why does God expect me to wrestle with him? This is hardly fair. He should have come and helped me earlier. Why go from pillar to post for attaining a double portion of blessings? This is weirdNo – God is testing our heart towards him. Are we humble or proud? The Bible explains – James 4:6-10: “ … God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble … Come near to God [hang in there – persevere and be patient] and he will come near to you … Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up

Therefore God is first testing our desire, then our humility and last but not least he is testing our faith which is our trust in him. Do we have the faith for perseverance? Do we trust God enough that we hang in there until all of his promises come true in our midst? When his disciples were confused on Easter morning and did not even expect the resurrection, Jesus chided them, saying – Luke 24:25-26: “ … How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe … [I have told you beforehand that the Christ has to suffer and then enter his glory.]“ By testing us – by playing “hard to get” – God is building into us that we are to live by faith and not by sight. God values faith – everything in the Christian life is by faith – because our trust in him honours him.

Now I bring this segment to an end. This morning – if you want God but somehow you are not yet breaking through to him, then do not be put off but a) keep desiring him, b) keep humbling yourself before him and c) keep exercising faith. Do not mind that God is testing you but strongly urge him to come to you. He will come. That is his promise and the outcome is worth everything – outperforms everything that we thought possible.

I repeat one line from our first Bible reading – Colossians 1:18-23: “ … Once you were alienated from God … But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation … “ We are no longer alienated from God but perfect as far as he is concerned – completely forgiven, washed clean by the holy blood of Jesus Christ. There is now peace with God and therefore peace in our souls because nothing satisfies the soul more than God. He loves you. He thinks that you are so precious that he doesn’t regret sacrificing his son on the cross for you. He loves you and we come to live for his love – intimacy with him.

A man in the Bible found the right words for what we live for – Psalm 63:1-11: “O God, you are my God, . I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you … I have … beheld your power and your glory . your love is better than life … My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help … My soul clings to you … “ These words describe the experience that is on offer. These words point to a love relationship with God.

God is fantastic and he doesn’t put limits on anything. Salvation is way more than an escape from hell. It is such intimacy with God that here on earth we don’t even begin to understand the mystery of our union with him. Another person in the Bible writes from experience – Ephesians 5:31-32: “ … a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the churchIt is hard enough for us to understand how a man and a woman can become so mysteriously united in marriage – the intimacy – the touching of each other’s soul – but the same mysterious union applies even more so – even more incomprehensively so – to our union with Jesus Christ. You can experience it but barely understand what goes on in your soul and spirit.

Do we want this? Do you want to go deeper into this love relationship with God? The disciples – who had Jesus walking with them from Jerusalem to Emmaus – they had burning hearts when he expounded the Scriptures to them but when they urged him strongly to stay with them for the night, they had Jesus dine with them – break bread and have wine with them – intimacy around the table. There is more to have from God. We also want to go from burning hearts to feasting with Jesus. Therefore – for this very reason – coming back to the main point of this message – we allow God to test us. It’s okay when he is playing “hard to get”. We are not going to be put off but a) keep desiring him, b) keep humbling ourselves before him and c) keep exercising faith. He’s worth our utmost exertion.

One minister preached these words: “Oh, if I had one gift or one desire that I would bestow on you more than all others, I would bestow upon you the hunger for God … Hunger is the best thing that ever came into a man’s life … ” (John G. Lake: The Complete Collection Of His Life Teachings, New Kensington: Whitaker House 1999, p204). He is right. Value, protect, keep alive your hunger for God because without hunger there is no pursuit of God and without a pursuit of God, there is no salvation – no growth – no attainment of more from God. Value, protect, keep alive your hunger for God. Make a habit of fasting (may want to fast the last weekend of every month) where you discipline yourself to become hungry again for God. The preacher is right: “Oh, if I had one gift or one desire that I would bestow on you more than all others, I would bestow upon you the hunger for God

Yet, there is also danger lurking here and I want to conclude with this point. Three weeks ago someone commented that our Sunday morning prayer meetings had lost some of God’s favour and therefore she was no longer coming to the meetings. However, she knew that canceling the prayer meetings was not an option and therefore she spent hours and days enquiring of God why he seemed to have retreated from us. God spoke to her one sentence from the Bible – Zechariah 4:10: “Who despises the day of small beginningsAnd on another day he confirmed his answer: “Who despises the day of small beginningsGod was saying that we were not thankful enough. We always want more. We are ungrateful. He is doing and has been doing so much for us – people come to faith, get healed, are filled with the Spirit, there is revelation, great services, a promising future, excitement and joy, freedom in worship – but we always want more without pausing to be thankful.

When I heard this word, I sensed that it was right – at least for me. God has been playing “hard to get”. Over the years it has cost us to recapture the Bible truths about the baptism with the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, healings and reaching out with demonstrations of the Spirit’s power. It has been a hard road of persevering and stepping out in faith which required and is requiring boldness. Over time – at least for me – this kind of exertion has become ingrained and may have suffered an unhealthy – if not sinful – development. On occasion I may have lost sight of the goodness of God – maybe a recurring problem. I’ve lost sight of the goodness of God. Hunger, exertion, going from pillar to post, straining at the oars against the wind, wrestling with God – all of this is hard and therefore we so easily draw the wrong conclusion from our struggles. We forget that we are in good hands and safe hands. God is testing us but not beyond what we can bear and he loves us and therefore he is the one that has initiated salvation – initiated our growth – initiated our encounters with him – initiated the provisions of spiritual gifts and everything else for us. We may find ourselves in the day of small beginnings but so what? Hallelujah – God is in that day and he can and will grow us from there.

When I heard God saying: “Who despises the day of small beginningsI rejoiced because I understood that this Word is an invitation to relax (a little) and trust him. There will always be more of God as long as we live (because his grace is unsearchable) but we can enjoy the journey – even the day of small beginnings. The Christian life is not just about exertion but also the enjoyment of reaching stages on the way. God knows what he is doing and he knows where he is taking us and we can be thankful. How nice it is to let God be in charge and simply trust him and be thankful.

This Easter Sunday may be a day of small beginnings but be thankful. God loves you. Even when it feels like God is playing “hard to get”, know the truth. He wants you to “get him” because he loves you and therefore – with a thankful heart – appreciate the testing: a) keep desiring him, b) keep humbling yourself before him and c) keep exercising faith. “He is risen.” “He is risen indeedAmen.