Empty

 

[Ed. This is the sermon that I preached several weeks ago at McCrae Brook Wesleyan Church.]

Empty – think about that word for a minute…think about the times the word empty is a disappointment. For example – an empty gas tank – I don’t think any of us like one of those.  How about an empty refrigerator? Me neither.  How about an empty cookie jar? An ice cream carton – the milk container – or how about when James and I are at work and we find box – that should have something for the store – but instead it is empty because someone took the last one and didn’t take the empty box out to the trash?  Empty is typically not a positive word.

Several weeks ago during our Skype interview, I mentioned to those gathered that I am a runner.  God has helped me go from a very unfit 45 year old (with high blood pressure and border line diabetic) to a healthy 52 year old.  I feel great and hope to run as long as God gives me breath and my legs hold out.

Not many days after our interview I went out for a run.  Staunton, VA has a beautiful park not far from downtown that has a 1.36 mile looped road.  It is away from traffic and many people use it to walk – walk their dogs – or run.  Pam and I will miss the park.

On that morning there was some activity at one of the entrances. They were doing some tree cutting.  I noticed the next time around that the main truck had moved and was heading through the park. The next time around, they were working on cutting a tree.  I thought maybe what was happening is they were doing some trimming, but as I learned on the next time around, the whole tree was coming down.  By this time my run was done, so I did my stretches.  By the time I got back to the spot in the van, they were cleaned up, but they leave the trees for anyone to take the wood.  Now is when I noticed why the tree was cut down.  From the outside it looked great.  The higher part of the trunk looked really good and so did most of the branches.  However, the trunk at the bottom was hollow or empty.

I want us to go to 1 Peter 1:13-22:

So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”

And remember that the heavenly Father to whom you pray has no favorites. He will judge or reward you according to what you do. So you must live in reverent fear of him during your time here as “temporary residents.” For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but now in these last days he has been revealed for your sake.

Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.

You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.

Like I said, many times we think about the word empty and it is not positive.  In the case of the tree, it was empty.  While it looked like a beautiful tree on the outside, inside it was rotting away.

This is what Peter is describing.  Our lives without Christ are empty.  As you may know, people go to all sorts of lengths to fill their empty lives.  People may try to fill their life with fame.  In our modern culture we have a common phrase that someone found their 15 seconds of fame.  Some may try fortune, but just like fame, many find that fleeting.  There are those who make fitness a priority – I don’t disagree with that – fitness has its place, but without Christ it leaves us empty.  Others may try drugs, or relationships, or alcohol, or sex or philosophy or social media or even things.  You have all heard the phrase “The one with the most toys wins!” But even that leaves us empty.  One of the wisest men in the world, King Solomon – a man who had everything was once quoted as saying, “Vanity of vanity, all is vanity!” In other words, even King Solomon didn’t find pleasure in things.  Check out the book of Ecclesiastes – Solomon describes the emptiness of life.

Without Christ our lives are empty. There is nothing that can fill this void in our lives, because God created it.  God created inside of us a place for him.  Nothing else can fill this void – as hard as we try.  God has paid our ransom to fill that void that we try to fill by ourselves.  It was a high price.  When we think of things that are valuable, we often come up with gold and silver or precious stones, but this is not how we were redeemed – this is not how we were bought back – we were paid for by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  Just 10 days ago on Good Friday, we remembered the price that was paid for our sin.  The sinless, spotless Lamb of God was chosen – long before Adam and Eve to redeem the world.  Jesus was crucified on cross to save us from what we could not save ourselves from.  He has ransomed us from the empty life.

I love symbols – one of the most wonderful symbols in the world is the cross, because it reminds me of the sacrifice that Christ paid on the cross – it reminds me of the blood that was shed for our sins.  Today the cross is empty. Late on Friday afternoon, Jesus was taken down from the cross and put into a tomb.  You see as we think about it now, empty is not such a negative word.

But – and here is where it gets really good.  Not only is the cross empty, but three days later, Jesus rose from the dead, conquering sin, the grave, death, and hell.  The empty tomb gives us life!  Think about this because of the empty cross – because of the empty tomb, we can have real life.  Jesus said that he came that we might have live and have it more abundantly or have it to the full.  I love the way the New Living translation puts it. “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” – John 10:10b

N.T. Wright has said of the resurrection, “The message of Easter is that God’s new world has been unveiled in Jesus Christ and now you’re invited to belong to it.

Because of the empty cross, because of the empty tomb our lives can be made new.  We don’t have to live in the old ways.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation – the old has gone, the new has come.”

We don’t have to walk in our old ways anymore.  Do you need some Good News this morning?  Here it is: Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen!

This message gives hope to those who don’t know Jesus yet, however, I think there is more to this than just being saved.  Peter says yes your ransom was paid by Christ through his death and resurrection, so don’t live in the old, empty life anymore.  We were cleansed from our sins when we obeyed the truth.

Peter reminds us that we shouldn’t slip back into the old ways of living to satisfy our desires.  We didn’t know any better then.  We are called to live a holy life – because we must be holy as God is holy.  A Christian life that is not holy is just like that tree – it is empty – it is not full.  Jesus did not want our lives to be empty or hollow, but to be full of him.  Jesus has strong words for those who don’t produce fruit (John 15.) However, he gives us a promise, “If we remain in Him, He will remain in us.” We cannot be fruitful unless we remain in him.  But if we are severed from the vine, Jesus reminds us, that we will not produce fruit and we will be thrown away – you could say that we will be cut down, just like that tree was.

Christ reminds us that when we produce fruit – we bring glory to the Father.  Jesus in that passage in John, talks to his disciples about loving one another and loving others.  To bring this back to the 1 Peter passage, he writes,

“And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory. You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.”

I think it’s interesting…some say it’s impossible to live the holy life. Some say we sin in thought, word, and deed every day.  I find it hard to believe that God would call us to “be holy as he is holy” and not give us the power not to sin in thought, word, and deed every day.  Where is the resurrection power in that?  Where is the power of the Holy Spirit working in our lives every day in that?  If Christ paid the price for our sins – If we were redeemed from our empty way of life – If God paid our ransom – If the precious blood of Christ – the spotless Lamb of God – paid our ransom for our sins – something that can never perish or fade – should that count for something – I believe with all my heart that we can be holy – because we have been redeemed to live lives that are pleasing to God – not hollow or empty  – by the precious blood of Christ and his resurrection from the grave.

So where does that leave us this morning?  What difference does it make that Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross?  What difference does it make that Jesus rose from the grave?  Does it make any difference at all that there is a resurrection?

Yes, very much so.  Paul writes in his letter to the church at Philippi, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead.  I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”

Paul was convinced that there was a resurrection of Christ and a resurrection of our bodies, even though he didn’t understand all the ins and outs – it remained a mystery to him.  Many times I believe that to come to Jesus or to live a life of holiness, we need to have it all figured out first.  Jesus didn’t call us to have it all figured out first.  Jesus didn’t call us to get our act together first…that’s not what the cross is about – that’s not what the tomb is about.

Paul said I want to know Christ. This is not an assent to Christ or a head knowledge of Christ.  We think we know something when we can quote all the facts about it.  You might say that I know about running.  I can tell you all the facts about running.  It wasn’t until I became a runner that I really knew running.  I became deeply intimate with running.

This is what Christ wants us to do.  Yes, he wants our head knowledge but he also wants to take that knowledge and move it – move it to our heart – where we become one with Christ.  This is what Paul was writing – to know the sufferings of Christ – to share in his death.  We don’t like to talk about these things because they are uncomfortable – but to know Christ is the only way that we can live for him. It is the only way we can experience the life that he has called us to live – It’s the only way we can experience the power of the resurrection that has redeemed us from the empty way of life.

Here is my challenge this morning.  It’s a twofold challenge:

  1. If you are here this morning as someone who has not received Jesus – someone who has never made a decision for Jesus, I invite you to come forward and accept his invitation to know him. Some will say give your life to Jesus and life will be a bed of roses – no give your life to Jesus and you will probably experience pain and happiness just like you have, but Jesus will be there helping you through it – believe me, I have been there…but it will be worth it.
  2. If you are here this morning as a believer in Jesus, but you say, I am not living in the power of the cross – I am not living in the experience of the mighty power of the resurrection and I want to. You are invited as well, to commit to the life that Christ has called you to live.  You want to know Christ is all ways.  The altar is open.
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