"Do You Believe?"
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
So, as I am sitting at home today between the two services it hit me that Holy Week is here... I don’t know if you guys realized that. Is it just me or did it sneak up on us this year? Maybe it was an eventful weekend for lots of reasons, tiring but eventful. It just hit me all of a sudden, even though it seems like we just started lent, Holy Week is upon us and we are in the black and the “Thine is the power, and the glories....” are going and here we are in the start of Holy Week... the week of our salvation. I was thinking to myself that the best week in the world is the week of our salvation. We saw this morning our King, the king of our salvation, coming to us riding on a colt. We were praising, singing: “Hosanna” and we saw that he was coming to be the King of everything we do... to be our all in all.
Abouna Pishoy then told us: “Congratulations, we died this morning and our life is over”. With every drop of water that hit us... and some of us love to get that water... Abouna told us that we died this morning and now it’s time to live. He told us that the key to living is going to be what? Man... that was just a couple of hours ago and you already forgot. What was the key to living? It was hearing the word. So I said to myself: ‘Ok...this is good I have got no sermon to prepare so I am going to go home and I am going to read the word, I am going to read the readings and I am going to read about the great salvation that God is coming to give me’. This is the week of salvation; this is the week of my good saviour who came riding on a colt to save me... to save ME. Right? This is the week of MY saviour. So I said to myself that I am going to start with the prophecies, I am going to read all the prophecies and read about how he is coming to save ME.
Do you pay attention to the prophecies? The prophecies were not the most uplifting bunch of readings in the whole wide world. I’ll give you just a selection; I’ll give you even some of the ‘not-so-bad’ ones. We read alot from the book of Zephaniah. First hour: “Here is Jesus my Saviour coming to save ME... save ME. I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land”... tough start... “I will consume man and beast; I will consume the birds of heaven, the fish of the sea, and the stumbling blocks along with the wicked. I will cut off man from the face of the land” says the Lord. That’s a tough start in the first hour but I said that maybe I just picked the wrong hour. Let’s go to the next hour, maybe the weather improves a little bit in the next hour. The next hour the weather gets worse. Again, the book of Zephaniah: “The great day of the Lord is near”... that’s what I want; I want the day of the Lord, the day of my Salvation... “It is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the Lord is bitter. There the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day or wrath, a day of trouble, distress, devastation, desolation, darkness, gloominess, clouds...” should I keep going? “Big darkness. I will bring distress upon men. They shall walk like blind men because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood shall be poured out like dust and their flesh like refuse. Glory be to God forever”. There’s my Saviour, and believe me it gets worse... it continues to get worse. If you pay attention to the prophecies alot of the prophecies during this week are tough. Where is my salvation? Where is the King of peace? Where is “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”? Where is THAT? It seems like the King of peace turned into a king of destruction! It wasn’t just the Old Testament; by the way, it was the first act that our new king did once he entered Jerusalem... which we read in the ninth hour for those who were here in the beginning. He came straight to the center, to the temple, which is: if Jerusalem is like the people of God, the temple is like the CENTER of the people of God; so, he came right HERE... right here... and started yelling, screaming, kicking out people, and messing stuff up.
Is he coming to save me or to destroy me? That’s my question. Hold on there question for a second and I want to point you to another reading that was read that I think will help clue us into it. Let’s see... the last Gospel that was read to us was kind of a funny story that kind of came out of nowhere. It’s a story about our Lord Jesus Christ speaking to his disciples about one time they tried to heal a demon possessed boy. The boy was demon possessed and they tried ... ok this is Matthew 17. In Matthew 10 he gave them the power to cast out unclean spirits, Matthew 10, and they had done all kinds of miracles and they came back saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subbing to us in your name’. So, they had the power over demons and then they came in Matthew 17 to cast out a demon and they failed; they couldn’t do it. That’s where we picked up the story (Matthew 17:19); it says, “Then the disciples came to Jesus apart and said, ‘Why could we not cast him out?’” Why couldn’t they cast out the demon? In Matthew 10 they could and they went all over the place casting out demons and now in Matthew 17 they are struggling. Jesus said to them, “because of your unbelief”... “because of your unbelief”. He didn’t say: ‘because you didn’t pray the right prayer’. He didn’t say: ‘because the devil is very strong in this boy’. He didn’t say: ‘because you can’t’. He said: ‘simply, because of your unbelief’. He goes on to speak that if you have belief, even the smallest amount of belief (the smallest amount... let’s say the size of a mustard seed), that you can move mountains and nothing is impossible for you. Actually, if you go with the Gospels, the theme of the readings tonight of the Gospels was about faith and belief. There was a Gospel that was repeated twice: in the sixth hour and the ninth hour. It’s about when our Lord Jesus Christ came to his disciples and asked them a question: “Who do men say that I am?” ‘Well, some say you are a prophet. Some say you are Elijah. Some say...” and He says: ‘Ok, tell me, who do YOU say that I am? Who do YOU believe that I am? Tell me about YOUR belief.” That is when Peter said that He was Christ the Son of God.
The bible always makes a connection between two things: belief/faith and life. Belief and life. For those who were here yesterday (Lazarus Saturday), seems like a week ago, the story of Lazarus Saturday is really the story that we want for all of us because Lazarus was dead and gained life. Lazarus is a “mini-Easter”. Lazarus to me hits alot closer to home because it is easy for me to see Christ dying and rising.... it’s Christ. He is God, I know I can’t, but Lazarus is me. Lazarus is me. He is a normal person who died and who really got a new life. Like Abouna Pishoy was saying, life will never be the same again; so, I can see alot of what I want to be inside what Lazarus got. Let me show you two verses from Lazarus Saturday: John 11:15. John 11:15: “Lazarus is dead and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe”. When Christ saw Lazarus dead His first thought wasn’t ‘life of Lazarus’.... it was NOT. Giving life to dead people is easy for God. Who gave life to Lazarus to start with? That’s not God’s goal in Lazarus Saturday... it had nothing to do with life. God’s goal was belief. That was Christ’s goal. Through this event Christ wanted people to believe (specifically speaking to His disciples at this time). He goes on later on John 11:25-26: “He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Here is the most important sentence in the bible. All the bible has the best promises in the world but all of them are void unless this: Do You Believe This? Because you know what? Christ promises power to cast out demons but if you have unbelief there is no power to cast out demons. Christ promises that if you die you shall live, but if you don’t believe you shall die and you shall not live. Christ promises that you can move mountains, but if you don’t have belief (even the smallest... just a mustard seed) you can’t move a mountain. “Belief” is that upon which the entire Gospel hinges (on belief).
So what do I need to believe? I believe in God. I know Holy Week how it goes. I believe in all the stories. I believe in God. I think there is two things we need to believe: One I will talk about and one I will not talk about. I think that number one I think we need to believe what we hear... and I am not going to talk about that. We need to believe what we hear, and that is what Abouna Pishoy was talking about this morning... we need to believe what we hear. Believe what we hear to the point where I believe before I open my eyes, before I open the page, I believe whatever is about to be written right here. Forget about that for a second, you know what is even more important in believing what you hear? Believing what you say. How often do we not believe the things that we say? I’ll give you an example... easy example: This morning we said “Hosanna”. How many times? Ten thousand. YOU said, “Hosanna”. What does “Hosanna” mean? Save us... save us. Save us Son of David. Save us King of Israel. Save us, save us, save us. Do we mean what we say when we say “save us”? or do we do... and I am not making fun of the culture... the Egyptian: “khalasna”? or we add a “khalasna baa”. What does “baa” mean?... translate “baa”. Now? ... It has no meaning... very good. Then perfect, that it fits exactly what I am trying to say. Excellent... then it has no meaning. Is that the “hosanna” that we say in the morning? We often say this “Save us” as “Finish us from this problem”. Is that the “save us” that God wants to hear this morning? Is that the “save us” that we came to say?
I’ll give you three things that we say that I want you by the start of this week to believe it and even if you don’t BELIEVE IT BELIEVE IT by the end of the week you will BELIEVE IT BELIEVE IT... sorry, but you know what I am trying to say. This morning we said “Hosanna” ten thousand times. Today, tomorrow, and every single day until the end of this week we will say “thine is the power” and we will say “Emmanuel our God and our King” and we will say “Oh my Lord Jesus Christ” ten thousand times. We say this all the time. Do you believe it? Do you believe that He is your God? And is He really your God?... meaning: He is number one? And He is ONLY? Because there cannot be two gods. You cannot serve God and man (that is what the bible says). You cannot serve two things. You can serve one thing only. That He is my God, He is all I see, He is all I want. I don’t want anything else in this world. I kind of want stuff, but I don’t really want stuff, and this week I will remind myself over and over that He is my God. I worship Him. I want Him. I seek Him. It’s Him, Him, Him, Him. He is my God. I will not just say it with my mouth and believe something different. He is my King. He is the ruler of my life, and like I said a minute ago, before the king had spoken, that when I show up in the presence of the king I am already obeying. In here [church] I am already obeying and I am saying that: ‘I am coming to obey whatever it is that You say. Say what You want to say I am already obeying ... You are the king. You are not a counsellor, You are a king.’ Then my faith. My Lord Jesus Christ, my good Saviour, can I believe the He is not just OUR God and OUR king? I love how the Church personalizes it... how He is MY lord, He is my sweet Saviour, He is the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world and to take away my sins.
You know this morning, I don’t know if you were paying attention to the liturgy readings this morning read, from Hebrews 9 was the Pauline Epistle. It was speaking about how Christ was offered as a sacrifice for the world. It was saying how in the Old Testament they would bring a lamb to the alter and sacrifice it. So, I am a sinner, I would bring some kind of offering and slay it and then my sin would be covered. Every time I’d sin I’d bring a lamb. So, the priest would see a thousand lambs coming through and each one offered for the sins of this person. It [the Pauling Epistle] was talking about how our good Saviour, the Lamb of God, entered into Jerusalem and entered into the temple as the true Lamb of God who takes away ALL the sins of ALL the world. I thought to myself: ‘imagine if were the priest at the door there’. So I am watching this guy come in the door with this lamb and another guy with another lamb, and they are all just regular lambs, and then all of a sudden I see the pure Lamb of God, The Holy One, He who sits up on the Cherubim. I see whom heaven and earth cannot contain: who is all good, who is all holy. I see someone carrying Him as the lamb to be slain. What would you say to yourself if you say a guy with a poor lamb and then a guy with a rich lamb? You’d say: ‘Oh, this guy must be an important guy’. What if you saw someone carrying the Lamb of God... God himself, on Earth...and carrying the lamb to be slain for him? You’d say: ‘Wow, this person must be a really important person’. You’d say: ‘This person is carrying the Lamb of God who will be killed for him must be a very, very special person’. Who is that person? It’s me. That’s my Jesus. That’s my good Saviour. That’s the one who died for me. That’s what I am saying, that it is not a show that we do. This is not magic. This is not just dead rituals. This is MY king, this is MY God, and this is MY sweet, beautiful, precious, Jesus who is the Lamb of God and who is coming to take away my sins.
Do you believe? This is the question: Do you believe this or don’t believe this? Belief opens the door to everything. Unbelief closes the door to everything. This is what I was saying yesterday in the liturgy; there are only two options. There is belief and unbelief. If there is belief: everything. If there is unbelief: nothing. There’s no other options. You know, during Holy Week especially, the devil would love to get you to “unbelieve”. I mentioned something out of the top of my head, on Friday I think it was, and several people came to me and said something afterward. I mentioned, we were talking about the unction, and we were saying how good God is and how he cares so much for the compassionate. I said the following sentence: “Never ever say: ‘God has left me, God has forgotten me, where is God?’” Never say that. I don’t even know what I was saying; I was half asleep when I was saying that. Several people came to me saying that: “You know I’ve been saying that for the past several days, and I don’t know why you said that but you was talking to me because I have been saying: ‘where is God?’”. I am telling you the devil would love to get you to say: ‘where is God? Why has God left me? Why has God forsaken me? Why hasn’t God solved? Why hasn’t God fixed this?’ The devil would love to get you to “unbelieve” because he knows that if you can walk from today to Easter Sunday in belief about my God, my sweet and good Saviour, he knows that he is doomed. He knows that you will live on a plane that eye has not seen, nor ear heard. He doesn’t want you to believe. He wants to keep your eyes focused down here. Remember the story about the disciples and their unbelief. Imagine how the disciples felt. Here I am, I am the Peter, I walked on water; no one walked on water... I walked on water. We [disciples] heal people all the time. We are like experts at this kind of stuff. Here I see this demon possessed boy and I say: ‘Don’t worry boy, come to us. We are the disciples. Don’t worry. Come to us. Don’t worry about them foolish Jews, come to us’. The Jews are over there laughing and snickering making them feel like: ‘You trusted GOD? You used the name Jesus? and you did everything the Jesus told you to? And you still—‘Just like the world does to us. Doesn’t the world do that to us? Or is it just me? You trusted in God and He didn’t deliver. You fasted and you prayed and you did all of lent the right way and you are a worst person today than you were at the start. You’re more of a sinner today than you were at the start. Your mouth is bigger today than it was at the start. Your reputation is worst today than it was at the start. Whatever. Do you believe or not believe? God wants to get this issue straight today.
Another theme that ran through the readings: our Lord Jesus Christ prophesying about He, the Messiah, would suffer during this coming week. Make no mistake about that, he will suffer; we will see our God, whom we are trusting in His power, look very weak. We will see Him beaten up. We will see Him spat upon. We’ll see Him killed. We will see Him, who is supposed to save us, Himself being killed. You may see the same thing in your life. You may see this week bring you hard times. You may find tribulations and speed bumps in your way. You may find MOUNTAINS in your way... but hey, since when does a mountain stop him who believes? It’s the very thing that Jesus promised us.
Believe me, what Abouna Pishoy said this morning, what Abouna Paul said, I don’t think those words were from them... I think it was from God. Holy Week isn’t supposed to be just going through the motions. I know you know “thine is the power and the glory”, fabulous. You’re the best “thine is the power and the glory” person in the world. I know you know the psalm. I know that you know all the events; you could recite them, you could correct the deacons. You’re the best... but that is not what Holy Week is about. What Holy Week is about is it’s about our good Saviour, our God and our King, coming to give us life. We gave away our old life this morning and we are coming to receive a new life but the key is you must believe. You must believe that He is my God that you seek more than anything else. Your heart and soul long for Him more than anything else. He is My King, whom I obey, before he speaks and my good Saviour (the lover of my soul who came to take away my sin) who cast my sin up on the cross. If you believe this, and trust me, this week won’t end the same way it started.
Glory be to God forever. Amen.