April 21, 2019
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Today we’re going to take a look at this holiday, Easter. Why is it that a billion people all across the globe would say, “Today is the biggest day of our lives.”? Today is the holiday that trumps every other holiday in their life. What is the big deal about Easter? My hope is to make this easy for everyone to understand. So, let me compare two different words for us today. Throughout this sermon you’re going to hear the word better, and you’re going to hear the word new. I want to describe for you today why Easter is not about making people better. It’s all about making you new.
So, let’s go back in time a little bit. Has anybody ever been on an old steam engine? Have you ever ridden on an old passenger train? Or have you been on one of those old school airplanes or been in one of those classic cars? The steam engine number one was created by George Stephenson. At the time, Stephenson was pioneering train travel for people. We had freight moving on trains, but we didn’t really have people moving on trains. Stephenson decided that there was a better way to make a train. He started tinkering in his son’s wood shop with a new type of steam engine. It became known as the Stephenson’s Rocket. Because Stephenson’s new train engine number one more than doubled the speed of the average freight train, it was now carrying people at a whopping twenty-nine miles an hour. Stephenson made train travel much, much faster, and then we made some improvements. We got a little bit smarter, and we created today the Shinkansen train in Japan, whose average speed with passengers is two hundred miles an hour, but it tops out at about two hundred and seventy-five miles an hour. This is what it looks like when you make incremental changes over time.
The very first memory backup for a computer was created by IBM. Each one of those machines weighed about as much as a small car. They could back up five megabytes worth of data on some tapes. This [a thumb drive] is a sixteen-gigabyte drive that does the exact same thing that thirty-two hundred of those machines would do today. This is pretty small by most people’s standards, right? That’s what small, incremental changes over time look like.
Do you all remember seeing pictures in the history books of Orville and Wilbur Wright when they figured out how to make a plane fly? On their very first flight, they moved that plane at the Outer Banks of North Carolina at thirty miles an hour. Then we figured a few things out between the Wright brothers and today. An F22 Raptor’s top speed is classified, but we know that it’s at least fifteen hundred miles an hour. That’s small, incremental changes over time.
Do you see where I’m going with this? My guess is the phone in your pocket or purse doesn’t look anything like the very first, commercially available private handheld cell phone made by the DynaTAC Corporation in 1973. Does anybody have one of those in your back pocket? We got a little bit smarter. We made things a little bit better over time.
The last example that I’ll give you is Henry Ford decided, “I’m going to try to figure out a way to make a car that’s affordable enough for the common man.” His mass production of the Model T had a whopping twenty-nine horsepower. Then we figured some things out. We got a little bit smarter. Today BMW released the i8 that has over three hundred and sixty-nine horsepower. It’s not the fastest; it’s not even the most powerful car in the world. I just picked it because I think it looks pretty cool and nothing like what Henry Ford had in mind when he created the first Model T.
Here’s what I’m trying to say. If you make a lot of little changes over a long period of time, it makes a really, really big difference. Little changes will make you a better person, but I’m here to tell you today, Easter is not about becoming a better person. Easter is about doing something fundamentally different inside of you, making you into someone new. The truth is that all of our lives are on a trajectory, like a train moving down the tracks. Some of you are going to get a little bit farther than others. No matter how hard you work or how much you try, the train is on the same set of tracks, and the reason why is because it’s what’s inside of you that is determining the direction that you’re heading. What’s inside of you is determining the direction that you’re going. Or, better said, what’s ahead of you is being dictated by what’s inside of you. So, if you want the direction of your life to radically change, what’s inside of you is going to have to change.
Today, we’re going to look at an Old Testament prophecy from Ezekiel and see the Easter story that’s vividly described for us thousands of years ago well before Jesus ever walked on planet Earth. The Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament is a prophecy that’s referring to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the change that it makes inside a man or a woman.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. 28 You will live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness.
Today, Easter is not about being better. Easter is about becoming new. The best example that I can give to you is a caterpillar. The caterpillar is not trying to be a better, stronger, faster caterpillar. It’s ultimately going to become something totally new. There’s no going back from being a monarch butterfly to becoming a caterpillar again. That thing is totally different. What the Bible is describing for us today from the book of Ezekiel is a change as radical as the caterpillar becoming the butterfly. Let’s look at what it means to be made new from Ezekiel.
I. Not the same
The first thing that you will notice is Ezekiel is saying that the old is gone and there’s something new in its place. What’s really obvious from that first verse in Ezekiel chapter thirty-six is, it’s not the same anymore. What’s different is different on the inside, not on the outside.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
This Bible verse is describing a heart transplant. Now, I’m going to guess that nobody in this room has ever been in the operating room during a heart transplant, but I’m pretty sure you would agree with me; nobody does a heart transplant on themselves, right? Somebody else is going to have to do that work for you. God is the one doing the work. He’s saying, “You have a heart problem. I’m going to fix your heart problem. The way that I’m going to fix your heart problem is taking the heart of stone out of you and putting a new heart inside of you.” Basically, he’s describing what the Bible in the New Testament calls being born again.
Have you seen the Travelocity commercials with the gnome? It doesn’t matter how much you put a hat on that guy and place him in pictures all over the world; that’s still just a stone statue that you put out in the garden. Go out there in the dead of winter, and if you touch that garden gnome, it’s going to be stone dead cold. God is using this analogy of people who haven’t been made new by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. He’s saying, “Your heart needs a transplant. It doesn’t need a bypass surgery. You need a new heart. The reason why is because your heart has never really beat until I place the new heart inside of you.”
Here’s the story of Easter. God loved us so much that he wasn’t willing to leave us in our sins. Our sins were pulling us away from God and diverting our attention from him. So, Jesus was willing to leave Heaven and come to Earth. He lived the perfect example. He was the morally perfect man, the absolute example of the kind of lifestyle that you and I are supposed to live. Instead of living the perfect lifestyle and instead of living for eternity (the reward for a perfect life), he was brutally murdered on a cross by some men who wanted to get him out of the picture. The Bible describes Jesus’s death on Good Friday two thousand years ago as the payment for our sins. Somebody is going to have to die in order to pay for those sins. Jesus willingly died as payment to save us or to rescue us from our sins. They took his body off of the cross.
This is really important; his heart was no longer beating. That man really was dead. They placed him in a tomb and three days later, when Easter Sunday morning happened by his own power with his own strength by a miracle of God, the man who was dead came back out of the tomb alive. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the kind of power that it takes to make my dead heart or your dead heart start beating for the first time.
When I say not the same, I’m not talking about small changes over time. I’m talking about a radically different person, like the difference between a caterpillar and a butterfly. That’s what God is ready to do in your life today. He will change you and make you new, if you’ll turn it all over to him. He also will give you the energy, the supernatural power, to live right.
II. Energy to live right
Don’t freak out about the word energy. What I want you to focus on is the phrase live right, because I’m afraid some of you right now are thinking, “Well, I made some mistakes, but I’m just going to try harder. I’m going to pray harder. I’m going to work a little bit harder to fix those mistakes.” That’s not what the Bible is describing here. What the Bible is describing by living right is being morally perfect for an entire lifetime. -didn’t think anything wrong, didn’t do anything wrong. Everything that you were supposed to do, you did, and the things that you weren’t supposed to do, you’ve never done in the course of a lifetime. That’s the description of living right. Now all of us are saying, “That’s crazy, Jeff, because no one can pull that off.” That’s exactly what the Bible is trying to say. “You’re right. You can’t pull that one off. Something supernatural is going to have to change to give you the power to be able to pull that lifestyle off.”
I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.
Those words, statutes and ordinances refer to all of the things that we’re supposed to do and all of the things that we’re not supposed to do. Look at who’s doing the work in this verse. You can’t pull that one off on your own. I’m not good enough. Mother Teresa, the Pope, Billy Graham, nobody could pull that one off. Moral perfection is impossible unless you get supernatural help. So, God says, “Here’s what I’m going to do for you. I’m going to place my Spirit inside of you, just like I did for your first ancestors, Adam and Eve.” God fashioned Adam out of the dust of the earth. He made Eve out of the bone of the man and then the Bible says, “He breathed into them the breath of life, and they became living beings.” They were now finally able to be in a right relationship with God. God says, “I’m going to do the same thing for you that I did for Adam and Eve. I’m going to take the initiative. I am going to place my Spirit inside of you and then you’ll be able to carefully observe all of the things to guard carefully, all the things that you’re supposed to be guarding.”
I really, really like the word guard because it basically is talking about standing watch or standing guard. I like to think about it this way. If you’ve had young children, when they learn to walk for the first time, they’re kind of unstable. Every step looks like they’re about to fall over. Parents will protect the child by making sure all of the stuff that’s around them is out of their way so that the baby that’s just going from crawling to walking can go from one point to another without something tripping them up and making them fall along the way. God is saying, “I’m going to protect you. I’m going to watch out for you. I’m going to look over you. I’m going to guard you and make sure that you are able to successfully follow my commandments. In fact, I’m going to put my Spirit inside of you and my Spirit is going to make it possible for you to go from crawling to walking. That’s only going to happen because of my Spirit at work inside of you.”
When God makes somebody new, they walk out the doors not the same anymore. Now they walk out the doors with the energy to live the way that they’re supposed to live to follow the commandments of God. The third and final thing that God does for somebody is that he removes or takes away the stain of sin. He cleans them up and makes them different on the inside.
III. Without stain
You will live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness.
Let me describe verse twenty-eight, because you need to understand what was happening when God made this prophecy to Ezekiel. The people of Israel had made some mistakes. They had been called by God to be a pure and holy people. Think about it like a pure white Easter dress and you just spilled some grape juice on. Or a white Easter shirt and you somehow got some magic marker on. There’s no Oxy cleaning that junk out, right? It’s stained now, and that’s what happened with Israel. God cleaned them up. He made them pure. He rescued them out of Egypt and sent them to the Promised Land. He drove out all of the nations in the Promised Land. He said, “You’re supposed to live like different people so that people notice there’s something different about you.”
But Israel made some mistakes. Israel started to worship false idols. Israel started to practice the same pagan religions of the people that were in the land before them. God said, “If you don’t change, I’m going to punish this nation by driving you out of the Promised Land.” God sent a foreign army to invade Israel, and Israel was taken captive and driven out of the Promised Land. They became a migrant caravan for more than twenty-five hundred years. This verse really wasn’t fulfilled until the 1940s, when Israel became a modern nation again. The people that were driven into captivity more than twenty-five hundred years earlier, many of them were allowed to come back to the land that God promised them. This is God saying, “Here’s what I’m going to do for you, Israel. You made a mess of things. You got into sin. You stained the pure image that I created you to be. But I’m going to clean you up.”
Verse twenty-nine makes it unavoidably clear how God is going to do this. He will rescue you. That’s what that word means like a drowning man who doesn’t know how to swim, God will dive in and will save you from all of your uncleanness. You got yourself stained on the inside and now, if things are going to change, they’re going to have to change on the inside. It’s not about working harder. It’s not about being a better person. That can’t clean you up on the inside. Something is going to have to clean you up on the inside, and you can’t do that for yourself. Only God can do that for you. God says, “I’m going to do for you what you can’t do for yourself, Israel. I’m going to do for my people what they can’t do for themselves. I’m going to make them new on the inside.”
My parents divorced when I was a young child, and neither one of my parents went to church; they didn’t take me to church. I lived with my mother in absolute poverty. Occasionally, when I was in elementary school, my friends would invite me to come to church with them. Their parents would take me to church. I would sit in the Sunday school class. I remember this vividly because this didn’t happen once, but dozens of times. Some sweet lady in the Sunday school class would look at me, wag her finger, and say, “Little boy, when you come to church, you clean yourself up, and you wear your best clothes.” I looked dirty and everything that I owned had holes in it. In fact, I didn’t get brand-new clothes. The very first new pair of clothes that I ever got was when I was thirteen years old and getting ready to start high school. Everything that I owned growing up were hand me downs or from the resale stores. They all had holes.
Here’s why they were wagging their finger at me. I grew up with a birthmark. It started on my chest and went up onto my neck and back. The next Sunday that my friends from elementary school invited me to church, I would scrub as hard as I could in the shower to make that birthmark go away. But no matter how hard I scrubbed, it wouldn’t go away. I put my best clothes on, but they all had stains and had holes in them. I would go back to church, and the same people would wag their finger and say, “Little boy, when you come to church, you clean yourself up and you wear your best for Jesus.”
Where I think these ladies may have gotten it wrong is that they were so worried about what I looked like on the outside that they couldn’t see what was happening on the inside. At thirteen years old, God moved in and supernaturally changed me on the inside. Now when I went to church, I was a different person, new on the inside. You see, Folks, God isn’t in the business of just making you a little bit better. He’s got something much more in store for you than that. God is in the business of making you new.
I need Jesus to make me into a new person. Today, I surrender to him for the first time.
– I keep making the same mistakes. Pray for me to have the energy to live right this week.
+ I want my family and friends to see that I’m not the same this week.
1. Christ is risen! What is the importance of the fact that we, as followers of Christ, follow a living and personal God?
2. How is one, “made new” in Christ? What is the significance of this change in our lives?
3. Read Mark 2:21-2:22:
a. What is Jesus communicating to the group through these parables?
b. What is similar about both of these parables as told by Jesus?
c. Consider the imagery used: Is “old” wrong and/or evil in and of itself?
4. In your “old flesh”, what defined purpose in your life? How did you view the world?
5. As you are made new in Christ, what changes have you experienced in your life?
6. What does it mean that as Christians, we now have the responsibility of “the ministry of reconciliation”? (Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-21)
7. Pray for those who do not know Christ, that they may find peace and become new in Him!