Monday, May 3, 2010

Is That A Promise Ring?

April 25, 2010 Ephesians 1:3-14

Disappointment. Betrayal. Anguish. Sorrow. Regret. As the women took that slow, long walk to the tomb every hope that they had clung to had been dashed. They thought Jesus would be with them forever. He was their friend. He had been faithful. Now he was gone.

There are moments in life when everything you believe in is challenged by what is happening around you. People you thought would always stand by you, suddenly disappear. People who you believed in are no longer there. Jesus was everything to them. Now their world was forever turned upside down.

That’s why I believe that when they looked in that empty tomb they found things that brought them hope. Now if you weren’t here on Easter you might be a little confused. I’m talking in metaphors and playing off of Geraldo Rivera’s big television extravaganza in revealing the contents of Al Capone’s tomb in the 1980’s. Hence the theme, “What Did They Really Find in the Empty tomb?” Each of the items we are looking at represent some aspect of the forgiveness that Jesus’ death brought us.

We have already talked about the mirror and the ability to forgive themselves. Last week we talked about the friendship bracelet and how it reminded them to forgive one another. Today I want to talk about the thing that allowed them to really step up and move forward with hope again as they took on the mantle of discipleship.

In the coming months we will be talking a lot about what it means to be a disciple and a discipling community. The first step in that process is an understanding that in Christ, you and I have been given a promise. Hence, the thought that in that empty tomb the women found a promise ring. What’s a promise ring? It is a pre-engagement ring. When you receive a promise ring it means that the other person will be faithful to you, and only you, from now through eternity. It says that now I belong to you. We aren’t married yet, but I am yours. I will live now as though we are already in a committed state.

Today we are talking about God’s promise that came out of the empty tomb. The Apostle John puts it this way. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Eternal life. When these words were spoken, when you look at the words in their native language, they didn’t simply refer to the time after death. Eternal life also dealt with life here on earth. It pointed to a life of peace, a life of joy, a life that is all that God wants to give us. That’s why in another passage Jesus says he came to give us an abundant life, a life of blessings.

When we decide to come home, like the prodigal son we talked about on Easter, God says “I forgive you and I give you a promise. I will never let you go.” There is a theological term that is often used to express what happens when we give our lives to Christ. When we return to God and ask for his forgiveness, he gives it to us and he also secures our future. This is called “eternal security.” What it means is this: God seals your future. You no longer have to worry about your salvation. Christ died on the cross and paid the price for your sins. You are forgiven. You are free. God won’t take it back. That’s his promise. You are his and he is yours and God is faithful on his promises.

In ancient times a king would put his seal on any declaration he made. He would take his ring and make an impression on the edict. When you come to God and give your life to him, confess your sins and ask forgiveness, he grants it and signs off on his promise. You are now safe forever. That is eternal security.

You can now live life without fear. You can now live life as a joint heir with Christ. You know why this is important? Because we can’t do it ourselves. Some people live their whole lives trying to be perfect, trying to follow the law, only to fail. They live in fear that if they make one mis-step that God will reject them.

Others live their whole lives trying to find sin in others and make it their job to be God’s secret police. In doing that they can disregard their own sin and feel they are making amends by helping God out. It doesn’t work that way. Sooner or later we are all faced with our own sinfulness. The apostle Paul said it best when he declared that whenever he takes two steps forward, he falls three steps back. We can never justify ourselves so we will always worry and become obsessed with it.

But in Christ, we have security to live and to love God. This idea of being in Christ is so important. “Being In Christ” is one of the big themes of Scripture. For example in Ephesians 1 we find that “in Christ” is used over and over.

Four times it says “in Christ”. God says—in Christ you are blessed, in Christ you were adopted, in Christ you were set free, and in Christ you are eternally forgiven. In fact, that’s what it means to become a Christian. Becoming a Christian simply means that you made a spiritual decision to take your life and you place it in Christ. When you do that you have God’s promise that you are forgiven and that He will love you forever. That’s the good news.

Now as a result of this promise several other things flow out of it. First, as children of God we want to please Him. That means trying to live a life that will glorify God. There is a bumper sticker that was popular a number of years ago. It read” Christians aren’t perfect. They are forgiven. The truth is that we will never be perfect. Following the scriptures is impossible. We all stumble and fall. But as children of God we need to go to God whenever we fall and ask forgiveness.

We don’t have to be afraid anymore. Our life is sealed by the blood of Christ. But if we don’t go to God with our sins, our relationship will suffer. If you aren’t feeling close to God right now, it isn’t because of what somebody else is doing, it isn’t because God isn’t listening, it is because there is something in your life that needs to be forgiven. It may be a big thing, one of the “top ten.” It could be an attitude, pride, greed, envy. It could be that you are living with sexual immorality in your life. I can tell you this: If you are not feeling close to God, you need to go to Him and ask forgiveness and then see what you can do to change what you are doing.

The good news is that you don’t have to worry about him rejecting you. You have his promise ring. You are sealed in his love forever.

During the height of my bad spell during college, I went to a wedding with some friends of mine. I was drinking heavily. On the way home I got too close to a car in front of me and I hit it. My car was a mess. I got a ticket. The worst part of it all was the fact that I had to call my father and have him drive to the Hartford police station to pick me up at 1:00 a.m in the morning.

The worst part of that experience was imaging what my father would say when he got there. I figured he would be angry and start ripping me up one side and down the other. I was truly afraid. But when he got there his first question was, “Are you alright?” My response was I am so sorry.”

I learned that night about unconditional love. It was the beginning of a turning point in my life. I never wanted to embarrass my father again like that. So I vowed to change. Now I wish I could say that was the end of it. It wasn’t. Just like the next time you go to God won’t be the last time. But I began taking small and we are called to do the same.

In I John 1:9 we read “But if we confess our sins to Him, He can be depended upon to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” Confession is good. First it tells God that we know that what we are doing is wrong. Second, it tells him that we are going to take responsibility for it and try to change. IT may not be today, but we will continue to work on it until it isn’t a problem anymore.

It took me over five years to quit smoking. I knew it was wrong but I couldn’t break the habit. Sometimes I even gave up trying for a while, figuring it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. We do that don’ we? Today I am living with the consequence of that sin. I have heart disease. MY temple, this body, will not make it as long as if I had quit years earlier. I am paying the price for my sin. Praise God that I did quit in 1989.

The truth is there is always a price for sin. That’s why God calls us to turn from it. The good news is that he is there to help. He has given us his promise. We have been forgiven. That is what the cross and the empty tomb is all about. When we give our lives to him, he will never leave us. But if we want to enjoy the fullness of his blessing, if we want to live in his presence, then we need to confess our sins, ask his forgiveness and try to walk in his ways.

This morning I’m going to do things a little different as we close our service. I’m going to give any who want to come forward the opportunity to ask for God’s forgiveness. If there is something in your life that is stopping you from fully enjoying God’s presence, I’m going to invite you to come forward and give it to God. You don’t have to tell me what it is. Just tell God and then let me pray for you. Okay. And Know this. God has a promise ring with your name on it and he’s giving it to you today, just in case you forgot. Amen

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