Reclaiming Your Life

  • Reclaiming Your Life
  • Isaiah 40:6-8
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • April 1, 2018
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4-1-18 sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

2,000 years ago something happened that had never happened before. A few brokenhearted people went to the tomb of a man they loved, a man who had just recently died, a man who they saw crucified. They were told he wasn’t there and the tomb was empty.

 

That one single piece of news is so much more important than anything else that has ever happened that to this day all of human history is divided up into BC (what happened before him) and AD (what happened after that one life).

 

The reason for that is the report was not simply that the tomb was empty. The report was not just about where Jesus wasn’t (the tomb); it was about where Jesus was. All of a sudden he’s with Mary, telling her, “You don’t have to go through life being afraid; not of anything. Not even death.”

 

He’s with Peter, telling him, “You don’t have to go through life feeling guilty anymore because you failed so often. Not even because you failed me by denying me before I died, because I’m restoring you.”

 

He went to Thomas and he said, “You don’t have to doubt anymore; not about God, not about me. You can live with faith and hope and joy.”

 

He was with the disciples, telling them, “Now you have a reason to live, and you have a reason to die, and you have a reason to hope beyond all life and all death.”

 

They all needed to experience restoration. He wasn’t in the tomb. He was everywhere else, and not just there and not just then. He’s here now.

 

I want to talk today to everybody who needs hope. I want to say a word to some of you that will be personal, because for some of you, life may be going great this Easter and everything is up. I hope that’s the case, but I know there are a lot of folks for whom that isn’t the case.

 

I was thinking, getting ready for this message, about some people who I know. They are dealing with cancer and other health issues. They don’t want to hear something glib today.

 

I think about some different people I know who have recently lost people that they loved dearly to death. In some cases, I know some folks who have lost more than one person as of late.

I think about someone who spoke with me whose marriage is under a great deal of strain. I think about someone else who was struggling to continue to believe in God at all.

 

I want to talk especially today to some of you who might have thought, “I’m not sure I want to go to church on Easter.” That first Easter did not come to people who were happy and well-dressed and for whom life was going well. It came to people who had just lost their leader and their hope. They were frightened, and they were confused, and they were afraid, and they were disappointed.

 

I want to tell you, we need a hope that is not glib, that is not superficial, and that is not just human. If we could engineer hope,  if it was just about our circumstances, then we wouldn’t need Easter.

 

That’s why I actually want to start with really honest words from the Bible that speak to our human condition. A long time ago, there was a guy, a prophet. His name was Isaiah, and his people, Israel, lived in really dark times politically and economically. They were suffering. They were oppressed by the superpower, Babylon. Things were really bad, and Isaiah wanted to tell them words of comfort and of hope; but he was given this odd message.

This is from the Old Testament, Isaiah 40:6-8, “6 A voice said, ‘Shout!’ I asked, ‘What should I shout?’

‘Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord. And so it is with people. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.’”

A voice that is God’s says, “Isaiah, tell people all flesh is like the grass and all human glory are like the flowers of the field, here today and gone tomorrow. It’s temporary. It’s disposable.”

 

It’s an odd message to give folks in a dark place, but it’s true. Whether you believe in the Bible or not, it’s just true. We live in a culture that doesn’t talk much about death or really serious matters. We live in denial of it, but the Bible says people were supposed to think about this, and for many centuries, many people did.

 

Some of you know about this. Parents used to teach a prayer to their children. Kids would pray it at night when they went to bed. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

 

Those are kind of sobering words, aren’t they, for a little kid to pray right before they go to sleep, when they’re in their bedroom all by themselves in the dark?

 

Some of you know about this. I’m not making this up. There is actually a second verse to this prayer. Kids would pray this. Imagine a little kid, all by themself, praying these words in the dark:

 

“Our days begin with trouble here. Our life is but a span, and cruel death is always near, so frail a thing is man.” “Good night, honey. Pleasant dreams. Don’t forget, all flesh is like the grass.”

 

In fact, a real key point of this text from Isaiah is, “Don’t you put your ultimate hope in human sufficiency, in human ingenuity, or in human strength.” When Isaiah said this, the people were living in the shadow of the wealth and the splendor and the power and the ambition of Babylon, the best the earth had to offer, and people in Babylon knew the glory of Babylon would last forever.

 

Did it? Do we have any Babylonians here with us this morning? Notice it didn’t last as long as they thought it would. Of course, Lubbock, Texas, is different, isn’t it? Aren’t we much smarter than the Babylonians were?

 

The Bible says all flesh is like the grass. You don’t have to believe the Bible. Just look around. The fastest athlete in the world will eventually be defeated by arthritis. The most beautiful supermodel in the world will not be on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue when she is 97 years old. Wealthy, powerful CEOs get betrayed by their bodies, and they die. All flesh is as grass. This is really important. We live in a culture that denies this.

 

I’ll give you another observation from the Bible which is kind of an interesting contrast with this first one. This is from Ecclesiastes 3:11, “11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

All flesh is like the grass (temporary and disposable). Grass is here today and gone tomorrow. We’re that way, but here’s how we’re different than grass. God has placed eternity in the human heart.  The grass doesn’t know it’s here today and gone tomorrow. No other creature carries this glory and this burden, so we wonder about life.

 

There is a cave in New Zealand that has glowworms. The inside of the cave is lit up (it’s an extraordinary sight) by thousands of these phosphorescent little creatures. They spend most of their lives as larvae. When they finally hatch and get their wings, amazingly enough they have no mouths. They have no way to feed. They only live for one single day. They get one day to fly. They get one day to attract a mate, get married, have children, and then they die. One day. Glowworms get a day. They are like a clump of grass.

 

The grass is here today and gone tomorrow. It doesn’t care. We’re different . We have a radar for eternity. Human beings have this instinct, this sixth sense, that death is not the last word, that life doesn’t end with the grave, and we have a hunger this world cannot satisfy. It’s part of what it means that God has placed eternity in the human heart.

 

You have a longing for a security this world can’t provide. You have a longing to be loved, to be known fully and completely. You have a longing for healing, to be set right that no therapist in this world can give you. You have a hunger for meaning that no mere achievement on this earth can bestow.

 

Author Dallas Willard put it this way, “You are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.” That’s who you are.

 

We have to remember that. I’m going to put this into first person. It will come up on the screen. I’m going to ask that we all read this together out loud and think about these words as we say them. Here we go. “I am an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.”

 

That’s your identity. This is just true. You’re an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe, but you’re also like grass. You’re going to die. God didn’t plant death in the human heart. It’s very interesting in the text. It says God planted eternity in the heart. He didn’t plant death in the heart.

 

Death is not the way we were supposed to be. Death came because of sin, and that includes my sin.  I’m going to have to face a holy God on a day of reckoning, and I have not lived up to the standard of his holiness. Not by a million light-years.

 

Human self-sufficiency is not going to get me out of this one. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, all the creativity, innovation and technology of this world are not going to get us out of this one. I just have to tell you, if you do not have a hope that is bigger than death, if you don’t have any hope at all, God made a way.

 

We might have expected Isaiah to say, “Human beings are temporary,” and then contrast it with, “God is eternal. God will last forever.” He actually modifies it in two really interesting ways.

 

He says not just God, but the Word of God. Isaiah is pointing to something.

In the gospel of John, John puts it like this, “One day, the Word became flesh…” This is the most staggering thought ever.

 

“The Word” is a title John uses for Jesus. The Word here refers to Jesus the Son of God, the expression of God. The Word, which is eternal, became flesh; but all flesh is as the grass. Temporary. Disposable. It dies. That’s the point.

 

Jesus humbled himself. Jesus took on the very nature of a servant. Jesus lived among the poor. He washed feet. He was struck, and he would not strike back. He was hated, and he wouldn’t hate back. He was cursed, and he wouldn’t curse back. He was rejected, and he wouldn’t reject back. He was held in contempt, but he wouldn’t have contempt for anybody. He was condemned, and he gave forgiveness.

 

You understand, in this man Jesus, the Word became flesh. They put him on a cross, and they whipped him until he bled, and they hung him until he died. They laid him in a tomb, and they sealed it with a stone. All flesh is as the grass. It’s always been that way.

 

But, on the third day, Jesus said, “I want my life back.” The stone was rolled away, and the tomb was empty, eternity had invaded history, and death was defeated.

 

If Jesus conqured sin and death and guilt and hell, then this same Jesus can conquer whatever stands between us and God; it is not bigger than him. It is not stronger than him.

 

If I confess my sin and ask Jesus to forgive me and to become my friend and my leader and my guide through life, he will actually take up residence in my human heart. He’s not there in the tomb, but thank God, he’s here.

 

We’re going to look at how we can receive our lives back from God over the next weeks. How we experience restoration, how he can make beautiful things out of our lives. Ironically enough, when we don’t cling to them but we surrender them, we lay them down. We’re going to walk through that together in these coming weeks.

 

I want my joy back, because this world is radically unsuited for joy. I want my peace back because I’m over dealing with anxiety and stress. I want my marriage back, because how many marriages and families are under so much pressure in the world in which we live?

 

Next week we are going to partner with God in bringing restoration to some of our neighbors in the greater Lubbock area. We do this because God actually calls us to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to love the world. Because God is saying, “I want my world back.” We get to be a part of that. That’s why we’re here as a church.

 

If you don’t have that hope, that Jesus hope, man, I can’t imagine a better day for that than this Easter Sunday.

 

I want to give you one last picture of hope, because it’s not human. It’s beyond human.  Winston Churchill was a rather remarkable character. He lived one of the largest lives of anybody in the twentieth century. He was once quoted as saying, “Curse our mortality. Curse ruthless time. How cruelly short is the allotted span for all we must cram into it? We are worms. All men are worms. We are all just worms, but I do believe I am a glowworm.” That was Churchill.

 

But even the glowworm has just a day to light up the darkness; just a day. All flesh is as the grass. Churchill died. They did his funeral. They finished the ceremony, and it was a remarkable ceremony. Everybody thought it was all done, but after they thought it was done, to their surprise there was a bugler up in the dome of Saint Paul’s. The bugler began to play “Taps.”

 

That song in the army that says, “Day is done, darkness has fallen. It’s time for sleep.”

 

The last note died out and they thought, “Now it’s all over.” But on the other side of the dome another bugler got up and played “Reville.”

 

The song of the morning. “It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up.” All flesh is as the grass, but God has placed eternity in the hearts of human beings.

 

“Taps” is not the end. We are worms. All worms. Not the end. There’s only one hope worth having and that’s Easter hope. That’s the Jesus hope. Man, I hope you have it. If we can help you on that journey, I sure hope you’ll make that call.