Beginning of Forever - Radical

Beginning of Forever

Are you trusting Jesus Christ as your life? That’s the all-important, eternal question that each of us must answer. It’s not enough to merely give assent to Jesus intellectually. As John 11 teaches us, Christ is the resurrection and the life, and he’s the only one who has conquered death. In this Easter message, David Platt urges us to respond to this truth—through faith and baptism—while we still have time. Those who trust in Jesus as their Savior and Lord can know that they have eternal life.

If you have a Bible, we’re going to be in the book of John, chapter 11. Before we dive in today I want to let you know where we are headed in the next few minutes. I’m going to offer two specific invitations to you. First, I’m going to invite you to receive Jesus’ invitation for you to experience new life in a relationship with Him. To be clear, this invitation is for everybody, whether you’ve grown up in church or this is your first time ever in church, or if you’re watching church online. This invitation is for those who have questions about God and questions about faith. This is an invitation for people who may feel far from God right now, because of your past or maybe because of your present. It’s an invitation for people who may have felt close to God at some point in life, but that was a long time ago and a lot has happened since then. It doesn’t matter about your past, your present, your age, your personality, your background—this invitation is for you to experience life in Jesus by either beginning or renewing a relationship with Him. If you have any questions about where you stand before God today, I want to help you with those. 

The second invitation is that I’m going to invite you to make a decision to be baptized as a follower of Jesus. Baptism is the first thing that followers of Jesus do. It’s like going public, a celebration and declaration that you are not ashamed to be a follower of Jesus. I know there are many people here today who have not taken that step, for a variety of reasons. It may be because you have yet to become a follower of Jesus. Or maybe you became a follower of Jesus recently or many years ago, but for whatever reason, you’ve not done this yet. 

Or maybe you would say, “I was baptized as a baby. Doesn’t that count?” I’ll say more on this at the end, but praise God that your parents saw faith as important when you were a child, so they expressed that faith in a sense on your behalf. But every time we see baptism in the Bible, it’s a profession of your own faith, not someone else’s faith. So today you have an opportunity to personally affirm what others wanted for you however many years ago, in a way that doesn’t reject what they did for you, affirming, “By my own volition, I am following Jesus.” Maybe you have an opportunity today to call your mom or dad or whoever and say, “You hoped that I would follow Jesus and today I made it public that I’m following Him.” 

With all that said, some of you may be wondering, “Are we baptizing people today? How is that social distancing?” In the past we’ve baptized people on the spot at the end of our Easter gatherings here. We’ve provided clothes for people to change into and everything. But in light of sensitivities with COVID, we’re going to do something a bit different. I’m going to invite people who decide today to be baptized as a follower of Jesus to respond in a particular way, whether you’re watching on line or are in person 

What better day to do this than on Easter Sunday? What better time to take this step than this time we’re in right now during this pandemic, unlike anything any of us has ever experienced before? Many of us have been sick and we’ve seen others sick. 

I think about members of our church family. I think about Nancy Velasquez de Latif, a member of our church family for the last 20 years. She was known for her smile, her contagious love for people, particularly women and children. Nancy immigrated here from Peru as a young adult. She met her husband at the ESL classes they were taking together. This woman, who originally took ESL classes to learn English, started teaching people across our church family how to share the gospel in Spanish so she could take them on mission trips to Latin America. Nancy contracted COVID February, just a couple months ago, and at age 62 ended up in the hospital for about three weeks. As we know, no age has been immune. 

I think about Juan Carlos, another member of our church family who is 30 years old and proudly served in the U.S. Army. He contracted COVID at the end of last year and had to be hospitalized. This brother and his wife Rebecca were known for serving others and making people laugh, especially their three kids, Adrianna, Elijah and Matthias. 

We all know, especially after this last year, it’s not easy seeing someone you love being sick. As I think about Juan Carlos, Nancy, their families and many others whose family members have struggled with this virus, I think about another story—the story of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha who were close friends of Jesus. In our passage today, we will see that Lazarus became very sick, so Mary and Martha asked Jesus to come and heal their brother, just like they’d seen Him heal others. They sent for Him, then waited and waited and waited, but Jesus didn’t arrive not in time. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. But when Jesus came, He brought three things with Him. They’re the same three things He brings to each one of us in our lives: tears, truth and an invitation. 

John 11 Reminds Us that Jesus has the Power to Take Our Tears Away

This is maybe the most fascinating part of this story. When Jesus arrives, Mary comes running up to Him and she’s weeping. It’s not just because her brother has died, but because Jesus didn’t show up in time. Listen to her words in John 11:32: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I don’t want to spoil what’s about to happen if you’ve never heard this story, but I’ll just say that in a matter of minutes, Jesus is about to take Mary’s tears away.

Notice what Jesus does not do at this point. He doesn’t say, “Mary, just wait.” Instead, do you know what He does? Verse 33 says, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” Then Jesus wept. Think about it. Why does Jesus weep when He knows He’s about to remove the whole reason for weeping? Because this is what perfect love looks like. Even though Jesus knows Mary’s tears will be temporary, He knows Mary’s tears are real. When you love someone who is hurting, then you hurt with them, right? 

I will never forget the first time as a little kid that I saw my dad cry. It was at his dad’s funeral, my granddad’s funeral. I vividly remember that moment. I can see it like it was yesterday. When my dad broke down and started bawling like a baby, I lost it, too. I started bawling like I’d never cried before. Seeing my dad, my hero whom I loved, hurt like that? Love hurts with those who hurt, weeps with those who weep.

Think of the wonder of this scene in John 11. Jesus is God in the flesh Who knows everything is about to change. Yet in this moment, God is making crystal clear to you and me that when we hurt, He hurts—like no one else. I don’t know what you’ve experience in your life, what kind of hurt, pain, grief or loss that comes to mind in a moment like this. I don’t know the ways you have felt alone or abandoned, have been betrayed, abused or let down, when you have experienced disappointment or discouragement. But I do know that in the moments when you hurt the most—especially in the moments when others let you down or when no one else is around—Jesus loves you perfectly, like no one else.

Jesus Brings the Truth

Jesus brings tears, then He brings truth. Martha comes up to Jesus and says the exact same thing. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” If He had been here, the story would be different, but now Lazarus is dead. Yet Jesus says something to Martha that turns the picture upside down: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

What a statement! Do you realize what Jesus just said? Jesus just said He has the power to make it all untrue. He has the power to turn death itself upside down, along with all the pain, hurt, fear and grief that come with death in this world. He has the power to undo it all. 

You know that feeling when you’re asleep and you have a nightmare? It’s a horrible dream where all kinds of bad things happen and you feel the emotions of that dream. It’s miserable. But you also know that feeling then when you wake up and realize, “Hah. It was just a dream. It’s not true.” It’s an unbelievably great relief. “It’s morning. Things are back to being alright.” But do you know that feeling when something bad actually does happen, something you couldn’t have dreamed or never would have dreamed? Then you think, “I just want this to be a bad dream. I just want to pinch myself, wake up and go back to being alright.” You want all these bad things to just be undone. 

This is the beauty of what Jesus just said to Martha. He just said, “I have the power to do that. I have the power to make even death untrue. I have the power to undo it all.” If that’s true, then that means death is not the end of the story—and that changes everything. 

Jesus Brings an Invitation to Believe

That’s when Jesus gives this invitation: “Do you believe this?” Martha responds, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” The word she uses for “Christ” here is Messiah, the Promised One, the One promised from the very beginning of the Bible, from the very beginning of creation. Man and woman were made by God, but they sinned against Him. They did what all of us have done—they turned from God and His ways to ourselves and our own ways. As a result of sin, they were separated from God—and all of us are as a result. The penalty for sin is death, both physical death in this world and everlasting judgment in eternity beyond this world. 

But the good news of the Bible is that God loves us and has not left us alone in a world of sin, separation, suffering and death. God promised to send His Son, Jesus, to do what none of us could ever do. He lived the life we have not and could not live, a life of no sin. Then He died the death we deserved to die. Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for the sins of anyone who puts their trust in Him. 

Then, three days later Jesus did what no one else has ever done or could ever do. He conquered death itself, the enemy we cannot conquer. Jesus rose from the grave. He is the resurrection and the life. He says in verses 25 and 26, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live….Do you believe this?” 

Martha says, “Yes,” but she doesn’t realize the ramifications of what she said until Jesus says, “Let’s go to your brother’s tomb.” It was a cave, the Bible says, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Verse 39 goes on to say, “Martha, the sister of the dead man…” Instead of the Bible saying “Lazarus,” it says, “the dead man” as if to remind us that he’s dead. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” But they took away the stone and Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” Verse 44 tells us, “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” Just like that, at the sound of Jesus’ voice, the bad dream was over. It all became untrue. Indeed, death was not the end of the story. 

This story has massive implications for your story, right where you’re sitting today. I pray that God will open your eyes right now to the truth that Jesus loves you perfectly. He loves you and He has given His life to pay the price for your sin. He’s risen from the grave in victory over death and offers you an invitation today. 

In this world of hurt, pain, grief, fear of COVID and cancer, car accidents, unimaginable suffering, unfulfilled longings, broken lives and bad dreams, Jesus says, “I have the power to undo it all. I have the power to redeem all that was lost and restore all that was broken in your life. I have the power to take all that is wrong in this world and make it right. I have the power to turn the darkest night into the brightest morning.”

John 11 Shows Us that Easter is About Life, Not Death!

This is what Easter is about. Ladies and gentlemen, death does not have the last word. In a world of pandemic, viruses don’t have the last word. Pain, hurt, grief, sorrow, injustice, abuse, abandonment, evil in this world—none of them will have the last word. Jesus will have the last word. He is the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in Him, though he dies, yet shall he live. We’ll live with Him forever. 

The Canadian scientist G.B. Hardy put it this way: 

When I look to religion, I have two questions. One, has anybody ever conquered death? And two, if they have, did they make a way for me to conquer death? I checked the tomb of Buddha; it was occupied. I checked the tomb of Confucius; it was occupied. I checked the tomb of Mohammed; it was occupied. And I came to the tomb of Jesus—and it was empty. I said, “There is One Who conquered death.” I asked the second question: did He make a way for me to do it? I opened the Bible and discovered that He said, “Because I live, you also shall live.”

Do you believe this? The word “believe” here is more than mere intellectual assent. All kinds of people say they believe in Jesus. Big deal. Even demons believe in Jesus. The question is: do you trust in Jesus as your life? As Todd asked earlier, is He your parachute? Forsaking all, do you trust in Him? Do you trust in Jesus as your life? Your eternity hinges on your answer to that question.

I mentioned Nancy and Juan Carlos earlier, but I didn’t tell you the end of their story. After a three-week struggle in the hospital with COVID, Nancy breathed her last breath almost exactly a month ago today. After only a couple of days with COVID, Juan Carlos breathed his last breath on December 23rd, two days before Christmas. But ladies and gentlemen, Nancy Velasquez de Latif and Juan Carlos are not dead. They are more alive today than they have ever been before. You see, when Jesus is your life, death is just the beginning. Death is not the end. Death is just the beginning of forever in the presence of the God Who loves you perfectly and Who will wipe away every tear from your eye. He will make all things right. He will bring you to a place where there is no more sin, no more sorrow, no more suffering and no more death for all who trust in Jesus as the resurrection and the life. 

Do you believe this? This is the most important question you will ever be asked. Do you believe this? I told you I have two invitations for you today. Invitation number one is for you to receive life in Jesus. I wish I could sit down and just look into each one of your eyes and ask you this. Wherever you are right now, before God, I’m asking have you trusted in Jesus as your life? Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you were to die today, you would live forever with God?

So many people are banking their eternity on an “I think so” or “I hope so” or “I think I’m a pretty good person and my good outweighs my bad.” But that’s not what determines your eternity. That’s not true. The question is do you trust in Jesus as the Lord of your life? Again, this might be your first time in church. Or you might have grown up in church. Maybe you’ve even called yourself a Christian. But truth be told, if you were to stand before God right now, it would be clear that Jesus is not your life.

Many have all kinds of excuses for not making Jesus your life. You say, “I’ve still got questions.” That’s great. Today you can start to get them answered. Begin that conversation now. It’s too important to put off. 

Some say, “The church has too many hypocrites.” With all due respect, you know that has nothing to do with it. The medical profession has some crazy people too, but that doesn’t mean you ignore all medicine. Besides, you’ve probably had your own hypocritical moments. So be glad that Jesus loves hypocrites, including you. That’s kind of the point. Jesus didn’t come for the perfect because none of us are perfect. Jesus came for the imperfect, which means every single one of us are qualified. 

Others say, “I’ll do this later.” But I want to warn you, there may not be a “later.” You are not guaranteed tomorrow. No matter how young you are, none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. You or I could die at any moment, on the way home or at home, and this opportunity will be gone forever. Even if you live for many more years, you don’t want to harden your heart toward God. 

If you hear the voice of God’s Spirit speaking to you like He is right now, and you say, “I’m going to put this off to another time,” God will let your heart harden all the more. You may never come back to this moment. For some of you, this moment could be your last opportunity. Today is the day. Don’t make excuses. Today’s excuses will be tomorrow’s regrets. Five minutes into eternity, what are you going to be glad you held on to that kept you from Jesus? The first invitation is for you to receive life in Jesus today. 

John 11 Invites You to Undergo Baptism and Publicly Proclaim Your Faith

Then the second invitation is for you to decide today to go public and be baptized as a follower of Jesus. Again, people make all kinds of excuses here, some of them the same. Some say, “I’m going to wait until this or that,” or, “I’m just not ready.” The reality is, if you’ve trusted in Jesus, you are ready. It’s time. Some of you have been saying “I’m going to wait for this or that” for years. At what point are you going to have everything figured out and perfect? Today is the day. Now is the time to say, “Jesus is my life.” People say, “Well, baptism isn’t really that important. It doesn’t make a big difference whether I do it or not.”

Are you serious? If you’re really saying that Jesus’ first command to you is not that important, not really a big deal when or whether you do that, if you won’t obey Jesus’ initial, clear command to you, how are you ever going to go all the way with Him? You say, “What will people think about me if I step out and get baptized?” Honestly, if you’re saying that, please hear me in love. I don’t think you get Christianity at all. There are people around the world who get killed for being baptized. And you’re wondering if you can step out from your seat or get wet one day?

Again, you might say, “Well, I was baptized as a baby.” We talked about this earlier. Your baptism as a baby was the profession of someone else’s faith, not your own. Praise God for that. We honor the faith in your parents or whomever. But today is the day to profess your faith. You have an opportunity today, not to reject what they did, but to affirm what they wanted for your life. 

Here’s the deal. When it comes down to it, do you trust Jesus as your life or not? That’s the question. And this is a defining moment. Today is a defining day for you to do what God is telling you to do, to put aside your pride, to step out from your seat, saying, “I am ready to publicly declare that Jesus is my life.”

Two invitations are on the table. It’s time to respond. Just between you and God, with your heads bowed and your eyes closed, I want to ask is Jesus your life? If the answer to that question is not a resounding yes in your heart, then I want to invite you, right where you’re sitting now, to pray to Him, saying in your heart, “God, I want and I need Jesus to be my life.” Just let faith arise as you pray to God. Say, “I know I have sin in my life that separates me from You. I have turned from Your ways to my ways. Today I’m placing my faith in Jesus as the One Who died for my sin and rose from the dead. Today I am trusting in Jesus as Lord of my life, now and forever.” 

Now with our heads still bowed and eyes still closed, if you just prayed that, if you just expressed that to God in your heart, would you just raise your hand? This is before God. If you would say, “I’m putting my trust in Jesus as my life today,” would you just raise your hand right now before God? 

O God, I pray for all of these who are trusting You. I praise You, Jesus, for saving them, for giving them new life, eternal life with You. I pray, God, that You would give this group the courage to do what I’m about to invite them and others to do next. 

As you put your hands down, here’s the second invitation. Maybe you just prayed that to God, so you’re going to celebrate that today by moving toward baptism. Or maybe you’re already a Christian, but you’ve not been baptized since deciding to follow Jesus. I want you to pray right now, “God, please give me courage to do what I know You’re calling me to do.” Pray for courage to take this first step. As you take this first step, I guarantee you God’s Spirit will give you all you need to continue every step after that. 

I’m going to invite you to contact us through our website, letting us know, “I want to proclaim that Jesus is my life.” We will follow up with you on what’s next is your new life in Christ.

God, I pray that You would give people courage right now to unashamedly say in this moment, “Jesus is my life.” Please give them courage to make this day that defining moment in their life and in their relationship with You. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

 

David Platt serves as a pastor in metro Washington, D.C. He is the founder and chairman of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Radical Together, Follow Me, Counter Culture, and Something Needs to Change.

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