I Can See Clearly Now - Reality

Bible Book: Matthew  27 : 11-26
Subject: Easter; Resurrection; Life; Salvation

Today is Easter Sunday. the day when Christians around the world will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb. It is, in fact, the most important aspect of our faith. That's what led Paul to tell the Corinthians believers that if Christ wasn't risen, then our faith is empty. It means nothing.

So the resurrection is the hinge upon which everything else swings in our faith. That's why we have been taking some time to look back at some familiar Old Testament stories and attempting to view them through the lens of the resurrection. If we want to see and understand Scripture clearly, then we need the proper perspective.

And we saw, first of all, that knowledge of the resurrection is critical to our understanding of sin and death.  All the way back in the earliest days of human history, Adam and Eve were given a promise concerning a male child who would one day come, and even though His heel would be bruised, He would crush the head of the serpent. We find the fulfillment of that promise in Jesus Who was bruised for our sins, and through His resurrection forever took away the sting and power of death.

Then we talked about the necessity of focus and we moved forward to the life of Abraham to see how God's strange instruction was given for him to kill his son, Isaac. And wonder of wonders, Abraham was obedient.  He was willing to sacrifice his son because he believed God had the power to raise him from the dead.

There, once again, we see the necessity of a substitute who would take our place. Even though we were sinners, deserving of death, God provided a sacrifice who did, in fact, raise from the dead.  And we better understand that Old Testament story because of the resurrection.
Then last week, we traveled with Moses to Mt. Nebo where God told him he would not be allowed to enter the promised land because of his sin. And there we discovered that clarity is needed to make sense of what we're looking at.

 At first glance, it appears that God was unfair in His judgment of Moses, and yet Moses serves as a very vivid reminder of the circumstances in which we find all ourselves. We, like Moses, can't enter the promised land of heaven because of our sins.  We are lawbreakers and the law doesn't have any means by which we can be right with God. But the New Testament reminds us that Moses did get to enter the Promised Land and it was because Jesus brought him in. What the law couldn't do, Jesus did! That's why the resurrection is so important. It reminds us that what could not be accomplished in any other way, Jesus provides for us. Even though we are sinners and lawbreakers, Jesus gave Himself as a substitute for us, died on the cross, went to the tomb, and rose victorious from the grave!

This morning, I want us to think about reality. Do you remember the little cliché, "Things aren't always as they appear to be". There is another little saying that goes, "What you see is what you get" but that's not necessarily so because "Things aren't always as they appear to be". 
My old math teacher in high school used to tell us, "Don't believe anything you see and only half of what you hear!" and that was probably stretching it some!

Did you realize the same thing is true spiritually?  Things are not always as they appear to be. Think about the challenges and difficulties you are facing right now. If you assess them only through human experience and logic, you will come to a conclusion that may be far removed from what is really happening. There is a spiritual side to our lives that is very often overlooked. That's why it is so important that we learn to view our lives and circumstances through the lens of the resurrection. And to help us do that, we've been looking at some Old Testament stories where things aren't always as they appear to be.

This morning, I want to turn your attention to  2 Kings 6 where we find a story that is not as well-known as some of the others, but nonetheless, holds a great reminder for people who want to see clearly through the lens of the resurrection.

1.  An Old Testament Illustration

2 Kings 6:8-17

Now, the story doesn't need much explanation. Elisha, the prophet of God, has a ministry assistant who could see with his physical eyes, but he could not see with his spiritual eyes. He had to learn that there are some unseen forces in the world. Ben-ha-dad, King of Syria, longtime enemy of Israel, had invaded the country on several occasions, but every time he was about ready to pounce down on the King of Israel and his army, the King of Israel received warning and withdrew his army to a safe fortress. The King of Syria thought he must have a traitor in his midst. However, he was told by one of his officers, "You don't have a traitor in your kingdom.  Israel has a prophet that tells the King of Israel what's going to happen.  That's how he knows what you're going to do!" So Ben-ha-dad decided that rather than trying to capturing the King of Israel, he needed to capture Elisha, the man of God. Ben-ha-dad learned that Elisha was in Dothan. He traveled there and encamped in the mountains surrounding Elisha. This student of Elisha's got up early and saw the chariots and army surrounding Elisha, and runs to tell Elisha what he saw. He goes into a panic, thinking they are about to be captured at the least, and killed at the worst. But Elisha tells him not to get so worked up because our army is bigger than their army. I would guess this young man pulled back the curtain, and there wasn't a person in sight. He must have thought Elisha had lost his mind. But then Elisha prayed, "Lord, open his eyes that he may see." And when the Lord answered that prayer, the young man could see that the mountains were full of horses and chariots of fire around Elisha and before the day was over, the Syrian army was blinded and led around like a pony to Samaria, the capital of Syria. There they were dismissed and sent home in humiliation.

Now hold that thought in your mind and listen to what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Here we find ...

2. A New Testament Application

Understand what Paul is telling us. In modern words, he is saying, "things aren't always as they seem".  We tend to look at the things around us in time and space and accept them as reality.  But Paul says, while they may be seen, they are temporary. And there is another dimension to life in that which is unseen and this is what is eternal. In other words, there are some spiritual realities that are invisible to the human eye, but they are real nonetheless.

There's an old Cherokee legend that says as a part of a young brave becoming a man, when he reached 12 years of age, his father would take him out deep into the woods, set him on a stump, blindfold him, tell him under no circumstances could he remove the blindfold and that he would be alone for the night. 

You imagine what it was like for those 12 year old boys to sit out there one that stump, blindfolded through the night. Every noise you can imagine would be amplified through the stillness of the night as you sat there in absolute darkness. But what that boy didn't realize is that his father never left.  He was there through the night watching over this boy. Even though he couldn't see it and didn't realize it, there was nothing to fear because his father was there. That's what Paul is talking about. He knew there were some spiritual realities that were unseen, but nevertheless were real.

And notice, Paul says, it is that understanding that prevents us from losing heart or becoming discourage.  And believe, me, Paul had every reason to lose heart. Listen to what he says of his own life in verses 8-13. He's talking about the necessity of preaching the message of Christ. It's hard. It draws enemies. It produces the same responses that Jesus received. He was, in fact, dying, giving his life for others to have the privilege of knowing Christ.  But he does it because of a specific piece of information and that one thing changes everything. So what was it that gave Paul such confidence?  What does he identify as the motivation for not losing heart?  How did he keep his eyes off the armies that surrounded him?

verse 14

Put simply, he endured all the difficulties and kept on serving the Lord because of the resurrection. In fact, in verse 17, he says what he's going through is just light affliction. It lasts for just a moment! And it provides some amazing, unbelievable benefits that last for eternity. So, he says, I just choose to look through the lens of the resurrection so that I can distinguish what is physical and temporary from that which is spiritual and eternal. And that's what Elisha was saying to this young man who looks out the window and sees these surrounding armies. He needed to learn to see the difference between the visible and invisible forces in the world.  He needed a good dose of spiritual reality. And that is the difference the resurrection makes.

Now think about how that fleshes out in real life. After all, if we are going to learn to view life through the lens of the resurrection, then it ought to be tangible and evident. So let's look at some

3.  Real Life Demonstrations

What happens when people view life through the resurrection versus those who don't?  What's different about seeing only the temporary and the physical instead of the eternal and spiritual? Think about those people who lived and interacted with Jesus. For all intents and purposes, they are the last of the Old Testament characters. When the Bible closes on the book of Malachi, we end the record of the Old Testament, but the Old Testament doesn't end there. In fact, the majority of the Gospels, up until the resurrection of Christ, is the record of people who live under the Old Testament law. But one day, the last of the Old Testament prophets,  a man known as John the Baptist, stepped up, pointed to Jesus and said, "Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world." And that was the dividing line between the Old Testament way of life and the New. So the people who encountered the Lord, are, for all intents and purposes, Old Testament people living in the transition to the New.  
They are Jews who celebrate Moses and Abraham. The follow the commands of the law by observing Jewish sacrifices and celebrations.  But they cross paths with Jesus in what is one of the oddest aspects of the Easter story.

All four of the Gospel writers tell us about an event known as the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This entry actually initiates the events of the last week of His life.Listen to how John records that day: John 12:12-19

That's quite a statement isn't it? The enemies of the Lord recognize His popularity with the people!  Matthew says all the city was moved by His appearance! 

Mark tells us how the people spread their clothes on the ground in front of Him, along with palm branches.  Luke tells us how the people began to rejoice and praise God with shouts because of what they'd seen Him do!

In fact, all of them, Matthew, Mark, and John, tell about of how He was praised by those how the people praise Him by saying, "Hosanna! and Glory to God and Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Obviously, this is one of the high moments in the earthly ministry of Christ!  But then we fast forward to Crucifixion Day, and suddenly everything changes.

Notice, first of all the response of - The Crowd Matthew 27:11-26

In one of the oddest things about the Easter story, the same crowd that has just a few days earlier praised Him in the streets of Jerusalem, now screams for His death.  What could possibly have changed in that short a time?  The answer is fairly simple. Their perception of the Man they saw at the first of the week was not the same as it was a few days later.  They are looking at the physical , and nothing else. The man who rode into town in triumphant entry was the man who did miracles and healed the sick and raised the dead!  He could walk on water and feed thousands with a little boy's lunch. And when He came riding into town, it was easy to jump on the band wagon and believe Him to be the answer to their prayers of liberation from Roman occupation.

That's why they said and did what we read about. He was the answer to all their problems, the long-awaited Deliver and King!  A man of power and majesty Who could throw off the hated shackles of Rome and make them the great nation they always knew they could and should be.
But that was then, and now, just a few days later, He stands before them a broken and defeated man. Once He seemed invincible. Now He's under arrest - beaten, bloody and rejected. Now He was just a pathetic loser. So it didn't take much for the Jews to be swayed by the chief priests and the elder.

Matthew 27:20

But they had an excuse. They didn't have all the information. They didn't know what the last chapter of the story was supposed to be. They didn't have the privilege of looking through the lens of the resurrection to see the outcome of God's plan. They are simply looking at the physical, temporary side of things. And it was that ignorance, what they didn't know, that led to their asking for Jesus' death. You could understand why they might turn away from Jesus.

But it's harder to comprehend how - The Disciples

His disciples could run away from Him. These men had been with Jesus for over 3 years. They'd followed Him, listened to Him, ate with Him and been a part of those most closely connected to Him.

In fact, Jesus had made such a powerful impact on them, that (after the resurrection) the ruling body of the Jews - the Sanhedrin - "saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus." Acts 4:13

Being with Jesus had had a powerful effect on these men. And yet, when Jesus was crucified, they ran away. And what's astonishing is that you'd think they'd know better. That should have seen that which is eternal! And they did at times! The Gospel of Matthew tells us of the time Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was, Peter responded: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

Matthew's Gospel tells us:
"From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Matthew 16:21

In the Gospel of Luke we're told that Jesus told His disciples:
"The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Luke 9:22

In Mark, Jesus declared: "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." Mark 9:31

Jesus told His apostles over and over again: He'd be betrayed, killed and RISE again!!!

So why did they run away????

Well, Mark 9:32 tells us "... they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it."

They had the facts, they just didn't believe them.

And so when Jesus was condemned by the Sanhedrin and by Rome they ran away. They hid in a room and locked the door, convinced that the same soldiers that crucified Jesus would soon come looking them too and they, too, would die a terrible death.

In essence, much like Elisha's student, they are looking out the window, seeing nothing but the surrounding armies of their enemies!
They'd heard what Jesus had said. They just didn't believe it. They couldn't wrap their minds around it. They'd even heard how this story was going to end they just didn't understand it.

And that brings the story to us. Really it would be right to include us with the disciples. We certainly fit much better there than with the crowd.  We have the information.  In fact, we have a much better understanding of it than did they.  But like them, we've heard the story. We know the details, but there is no personal impact made by the resurrection on our life. Some years back I read of an informal survey a preacher took of 100 Christians from several churches. He asked them this question:

"Would it have made any difference in your life - as you are now living it - if Jesus had not died on the cross and risen from the dead?"

-  45% said they did not think it had made any difference in how they lived their lives.

-  25% said they thought so, but not sure how.

-  20% said it made all the difference in the world.

-  10% said they had no idea.

And keep in mind, the respondents all said they were Christians, and yet most of them just don't seem to know why. They may have said they believed Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. But they apparently weren't living like they believed it. And by the way, there is every reason to believe the resurrection occurred. As a historical fact, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is perhaps one of the best documented events in human history.

For instance, every one of the Gospels tells us that Jesus predicted how He'd die and rise from the Dead. It's a consistent doctrine that is always set forth as the basis of our faith. And how else do we explain that three days after His crucifixion, Christ's tomb was empty? It shouldn't have been.

There were Roman guards stationed at the tomb to make sure the body stayed put. Somebody had heard Jesus promise His body would rise and they intended to put a stop to any rumors. But three days later, the tomb is empty and no one could produce body.  So what happened?
Did the disciples steal the body? That's unlikely. By their own admission the Apostles acted like cowards when Jesus died. They admitted that they ran and hid. If I were making up a story like that, I wouldn't tell people I ran away and hid.

I'd want to be the hero of the story. I'd want to tell you of my courage in the face of danger. The Apostles never came close to claiming such bravado. They were cowards and they admitted it.

Maybe Jesus didn't really die!  Maybe He just looked dead and revived 3 days later. There are those who would have us believe that's exactly what happened.

Someone supposedly wrote to an answer column saying their liberal preacher had said "Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely, Bewildered."

The reply came back - "Dear Bewildered: "Beat your preacher with a cat-of-nine-tails, nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for 6 hours; run a spear through his heart; embalm him; put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours... and then see what happens."

And if the resurrection didn't happen, then how do you explain the transformation that took place in the disciples? As I said, they were cowards, and yet, almost instantaneously they are transformed into men of courage and conviction who continually spoke of witnessing His resurrection.
In fact, they were so driven by that message that the Sanhedrin complained that the Apostles "filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood." (Acts 5:28)

They preached Christ crucified and risen from the dead even when it offended their audience. And ultimately they offended one too many people - most of them died martyr's death for what they preached.

Just consider the life of Paul who not only claimed he had seen the risen Christ, but that 500 others had seen him also, and many were still alive when he made this public claim.

Most of them were still alive and Paul was willing to give you names and addresses if need be. You could go ask them.
What did these men have to gain by making these claims? They had no ulterior motives. They had nothing to gain from their preaching.  There was no money to be made or worldly status to be gained.

There was certainly no economic or social status or popularity to be found in being a Christian. Instead, they faced persecution, beatings and death. We read a moment ago a portion of Paul's testimony.  Later, in 2 Corinthians 11, he continues by saying: 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. What man in his right man would endure that kind of rejection and punishment for the sake of a lie? Of course - no one would! And that's why the Gospel story was true. Jesus DID rise from the grave.

So most of those 100 "Christians" who said the cross and resurrection had no effect on how they lived their lives - it wasn't because they didn't have evidence to believe in what the Bible says. They had a different problem. The problem was NOT in their mind. The problem was in their heart.


So what about you?  Why did you come to church today?  Perhaps you come all the time and it's rather easy for you to answer. Others may be here because it's Easter and the family is gathering for lunch and momma wanted you to come. But I wonder, how many of us are here because Jesus' death, burial and resurrection has had such a profound and moving impact on our life that we couldn't help but be here as the church gathered to celebrate and worship and rejoice that our Savior overcame death and gave eternal life to us?

How many of us got up and readied ourselves for worship today because the resurrection of Jesus Christ has made a difference in how we live?
How many of us, when faced by the challenges of life, when we look out the window and see our enemies, choose to intentionally view those circumstances through eyes of faith, intentionally looking at the eternal, rather than the spiritual?

 Here are two groups of people. One group ignorantly screamed for His death, not comprehending what Jesus had come to do. They simply didn't have the information and they rejected Christ. The second group had the information, they just refused to believe it or chose to ignore it and they wound up deserting and denying the Lord. I find those same two groups of people today.

There are a lot of people who don't believe in or embrace Jesus for those same reasons. Some simply don't have the information. They have no idea who Jesus is at any level. Many aren't familiar with His claims or teaching while others may have only a historical understanding of a good man who lived and died a long time ago. 

So there were a lot of people who were up close and personal with Jesus who don't understand Easter. The chief priests and the teachers of the Law didn't understand. Even Jesus' disciples didn't have a clue.

But there was one person who got it and that was - The Thief on the Cross

Hanging on the tree beside the Lord that day was a man who, when he saw Jesus on the cross, he knew what was happening. He looked at the spiritual and not the physical.

Listen to what Scripture records of him - Luke 23:40-43

Now think about this: Jesus isn't dead yet. He hasn't been buried in the tomb and He certainly hasn't risen from the grave. He's still nailed to a cross just like this guy is. In fact, the other thief on the other cross sees the same things this guy does and winds up mocking and making fun of Jesus. 

Now it occurs to me that the faith of this thief in Jesus is based on two primary facts. He only has two reasons to accept who Jesus is. 
First, he recognizes that Jesus didn't deserve to be on that cross, and

Second, he recognizes that he does deserve to be on that cross.

And that's all he's got to work with. But from those two facts, this man, who's been evil for much of his life and is now nailed to a cross. He's in a place he from which he will not escape. He's going to die here on this cross and it's all his fault. His sin has gotten him where he was and that's where he's going to die. But he suddenly realizes that Jesus could fix what he'd broken in his life. And I find it extremely compelling while some had turned away, and others had run away, this man turned to Jesus and sought His help. And that was what made all the difference in his life.

This guy is able to see what is happening through the lens of the resurrection. He knows they are all about to die, and yet he talks to the Lord about what He's going to do after He dies.  He has a deep-seated belief that Jesus is not going to stay dead, and neither is he. And looking at what was happening through the lens of the resurrection is what made the difference in his life and his eternity. 

And if the resurrection will ever mean anything to you other than an annual trip to church with Grandma, you've got to get to the same place this thief was. Until you realize that you have sin in your life, just as Adam and Eve came to that realization, the cross and the empty grave aren't going to mean anything to you. Until you realize that you have messed up your life and there is nothing you can do to cover your sin and like Isaac, you need a substitute, Easter won't be that big of a deal. Until you realize you don't deserve God's love and you can't do it by yourself, but that God so loved you that, even when you were not worth loving, even when you were covered with sin, He gave His only begotten Son so that your life could be changed. Until you realize that, Jesus won't really mean anything to you. He will just be a man who died on a cross a long time ago. But once you choose to look at those things through the lens of the resurrection, everything will become clear.

There are some realities you will never realize until you choose to see that which is spiritual. When God opens your eyes your whole perspective changes.

Instead of fear there is faith. In the place of despair there is hope. Instead of seeing yourself surrounded by enemies you see that you are surrounded by friends. Instead of fear and panic God's peace and patience rushes over you like a flood.

How we need to be able to see! How many heartaches could be healed only if we could see? How many fears could be calmed only if we could see? How many trials could be endured, marriages saved, grief's comforted, only if we could see?

Are you ready to open your life to what God can do?

Pray with me:  "O, Lord, open our eyes that we may see the reality and the power of your unseen spiritual forces. Open our eyes that we may see beyond the horizon of this world and its problems and see that better country where our inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. Lord, open our eyes to see you."