Welcome to week four of the series called “I Love Sundays!”
We are learning in this series how to make Sunday the best day of our week. Three weeks ago, we learned that Sundays can actually surprise us and actually be the best day of our week. Two weeks ago, we learned how to honor the Sabbath and prepare for Sunday as if it’s the highlight of our week. Last week, we learned how to use Sundays to build better families.
All the way, we’ve talked about some solid principles for how to love Sundays.
- Decided to let Sunday be the best day of your week.
- Invest something great into church.
- Honor God’s rhythm by celebrating the Sabbath.
- Prepare for Sunday as if it’s the highlight of your week.
- Start your children off the way they should go.
This morning, I want to talk to you about how Sundays can actually change your eternity.
For the past three weeks, we’ve been talking about getting our lives back in order through resting, refueling, and refocusing by participating in church on Sundays. What we haven’t talked about yet is why the whole “church” experience is actually so powerful and how there ever came to be a church in the first place. Why does the Church exist?
I want to talk to you about this today because way back in the beginning, Church was God’s idea, and it still is His idea. And when you understand why God loves the Church so much, I think you’ll not only love the Church yourself, you’ll love God more. Because in all reality, when you scrape away all the details, God wanted there to be a Church because God loves you and me.
Please pick up a Bible. If you brought your own, great. If not, use one in the pews.
What you hold in your hands is an ancient document. Its earliest chapters were written by a Jewish-Egyptian leader named Moses about 3,500 years ago. However, the story spans over so much more time than that. In fact, it spans over all of time.
This book is actually compiling of sixty-six books written over about 1,500 years, from three different continents, in three different languages, by more than forty unique authors whose backgrounds ranged from prophets and peasants to apostles and kings. Just look at the first four writers of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew was a government employee, Mark was a missionary, Luke was a medical doctor, and John was a fisherman. There’s an incredible gap between the backgrounds, cultures, and educations of all 40 authors, yet the Bible really is one story, one thread, one theme that runs from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. The story of the Bible is really the story of the Church.
Please allow me to tell you the story. Open your Bible to Genesis 1. I’m not going to read the story word for word, I’ll just summarize it for you.
The story starts in Genesis 1 with the creation of the world. After carefully crafting the sun and the moon and the stars in the sky, God constructs a perfect place on an orb called earth and populates it with animals, plants, and wonder. In the midst of this paradise, He places the first human, Adam.
In the middle of chapter 2, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone, so I will make a helper who is just right for him.” So He made Eve, and Adam called her woman because she was taken out of man, bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. (wife of man) These are our first parents, made in the image and likeness of God. God, building a family, told the man and woman to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth.
Adam and Eve ultimately lived in perfect paradise. They were so intimate with each other that the Bible says they were naked and not ashamed. And that intimacy extended to God Himself because they were a part of His family. Genesis 3:8 says that God was so close to them that He walked “in the garden in the cool of the day,” apparently on a regular basis just to be with them. It was a perfect place with a perfect God in perfect harmony with His creation.
Then in Genesis 3, which is only the third chapter of the book, is the defining moment in the story. It’s the rising action that makes the rest of the story necessary. This is where the fall starts.
Adam and Eve, who had the freedom to choose anything they wanted in this beautiful paradise, chose the very thing that God asked them to avoid. They ate from the tree that God said don’t eat from, don’t even touch the tree called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). It was an act of willful disobedience. Have you ever done one of those? Have your children ever been willfully disobedient? We all have.
Adam and Eve willfully disobeyed, and it fractured their family, along with the perfect relationship they had with God.
Suddenly, they were naked and ashamed! When God came to walk with them, they hid themselves from Him. Because of their sin, their relationship with God was broken, and there was nothing they could do about it, nothing! God is perfect, or what the Bible calls “sinless.” And they were now sinful. Once you’ve become imperfect, you can’t ever become perfect again. Once you cross that bridge, you can never take it back or undo it. It’s like once something comes out of our mouths, it’s out and done. It’s like getting a question wrong on a test. You can get the next nine questions right, but you’ve still only got a nine out of ten. You can get the next ninety-nine questions right, and you’ve still only got a ninety-nine. God’s family was fractured from the bottom up.
Fortunately, God cared about His family more than His family cared about Him. And since they couldn’t repair their loss, He set about repairing it for them. That’s the story of Genesis 4 through Revelation. It’s the story of God restoring His family to Himself. Open a Bible to any page or chapter and you’ll find a God who is building a family of people who relate to Him by faith, and He goes to great lengths to do so. And in the last book, Revelation is the story of God restoring His family to a perfect world.
Have I lost you yet? Because this is your story and my story. And we’re in this together.
This is the story of the Church. The theme of the Bible is God restoring His family. He’s restoring His family so that we can relate to Him, personally in faith, and to each other in love. It’s the story of an incredible God who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Genesis 1 sets the context of the story: God made us and placed us in a perfect world. We unmade ourselves and that perfect world by doing the one thing God asked us not to do.
Turn over to the second book of the Bible, the book of Exodus.
Exodus opens with a large group of people living in slavery in Egypt. God is going to use this group of people to re-introduce His family to every nation of the world. So in Exodus 3, He calls Moses to liberate the people and lead them to a land they can call their own.
Have you seen the classic movie Prince of Egypt or The Ten Commandments? The story is so dramatic and so good that Hollywood just keeps re-making it over and over again.
God uses Moses to lead the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt and into the wilderness of Sinai. There, at Mount Sinai, God delivers the law to Moses. It’s God’s Law: The Ten Commandments. You want to know why God gives them these laws? Because He wants them to learn to live like a family again.
His first commandment is, “I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2–3). God wants a family, and He wants to be the Father of it.
Turn over to Leviticus. That’s the next book. Then Numbers, then Deuteronomy. Then Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. All of these tell the history of God re-creating His family.
For these thousand-plus years, the Israelites live under this law. One thing is obvious: though the law is simple, no one can live up to it. Everyone falls short. During this era, God sends prophets to remind the people of His love and to let them know that one day the law will be written on their hearts. Each of the prophets mentions or hints at a coming Deliverer who will make this all possible.
Fast-forward all the way to the New Testament book of Galatians, where the apostle Paul explains that….
When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…that we might receive adoption to sonship.
Have you ever stopped to think why Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, is called “God’s Son”? It’s because of this family theme. God is restoring His family. And after centuries of preparing the Jews, God introduced His Son to the world.
You know this story! It’s the Christmas story.
When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, the Deliverer. He’s more than anyone could have imagined. He’s the Son of God, which makes Him perfect and powerful. He’s also the son of a virgin woman named Mary, which makes Him fully human and able to identify with us in every struggle and temptation. He can identify with us in every way, and we can identify with Him.
During His ministry on earth, Jesus proved His divinity by healing blind, deaf, and lame people, walking on water, feeding thousands from mere table scraps, and teaching with unparalleled wisdom and authority.
Crowds flocked to Him and affirmed Him. After training the twelve men we now know as the disciples, Jesus announced that He was going to “build His church.”
Jesus’ announcement about the Church happens in Matthew 16. Turn there in your Bible for a minute. Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, and it’s the first to introduce us to the climax of the story. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus proclaims that He is going to build His Church.
Can you see the continuation of God’s theme here? The Church is God’s family. It’s the group that will spend eternity as brothers and sisters in Heaven. Jesus is so adamant and confident about building His church that He promises that not even the gates of hell will prevail against it.
Now drop your eyes down a little farther to verse 21. Because next comes the Easter Story.
Matthew 16:21 says…
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, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
On the heels of announcing the building of His Church, Jesus then predicts His soon and coming death. It’s a death that imitates the lamb sacrifices Israel has been making for more than a millennium. On Good Friday morning, Jesus was led like a lamb to the slaughter, up a hill outside of Jerusalem. He was crucified and died there, proclaiming, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
It’s a curious phrase. What was finished?
With His dying breath, Jesus was saying that through His death, God was completing the work He needed to do to rebuild harmony with humans. The fracture that resulted from the disobedience in Paradise was being mended. The God who created the first people was making it possible for His children to return to family and have a barrier-free relationship with Him again.
This is a GREAT story!
How do people get restored to God’s family? By what God’s Son, Jesus did for us.
By coming to earth and living a perfect, sinless life, Jesus was able to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Before Adam and Eve ate that fruit, God had decreed that when you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will certainly die (Genesis 2:17). Adam and Eve ate, and death entered the world. And we have been experiencing death ever since. Not only physical death, humans have been experiencing spiritual death because we turn our backs on God.
When Jesus died like a lamb on that cross, His life paid for our death. It’s called substitution. Adam and Eve couldn’t undo their sin, we can’t undo our sins, so Jesus paid the price for our sins, like someone might pay the fine for someone who’s in jail and can’t afford to pay it themselves.
This is why John 3:16 says,
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus’ death makes it possible for anyone to become part of God’s family. His sacrifice gives us access to God once again, forever.
This is why the church is so important. It is God’s forever family. It’s the community in which He gathers His children. All those who have chosen to let Jesus’ death become a substitution for their own death get to enter into what He called “full life” (John 10:10), which means being in relationship with the Lord both here on earth and in the life to come.
This has been God’s plan for you from the beginning. The Bible says that this family, the Church, is open to everyone who is willing to do two things.
To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
Can you see the family connection there? The two things we must do to become children of God (that is, part of His family) are: Believe and Receive.
To believe in Jesus means to believe that He was and is the Son of God who came to earth and died for your shortcomings. Do you believe that?
To receive Jesus means to invite Him into your life, to live in and through you as your Lord and Savior.
The best part of all of this is that you can become part of God’s family today. Right now. This is how Sundays can change our eternity. I wonder how many of you right now would say, “I don’t know if I’m a child of God, but if I’m not, I’d like to become one?” I’m going to give you the opportunity to do just that about three minutes from now.
But first, on Easter Sunday morning, on the third day from His death, Jesus Christ rose from that grave because He is the Son of God and He was conquering death on our behalf.
Jesus did that because He knew we couldn’t get right with God on our own. We’ve sinned (which means we’ve done some things that were wrong). Is there anybody here who’s never done anything wrong? If so, raise your hand. That’s because we’ve all sinned, and Jesus came to pay for our sins.
As a child who grew up in the church, I believed that Jesus loved me, that He is the second person of the Trinity, that He died on Good Friday for my sins and rose on Easter to conquer death. What I didn’t understand is that His salvation is a free gift that has to be received. He was offering it, but I had to take it. So at 25 years old, at a Christian music festival listening to Kirk Cameron speaking over four days, I reached out my hand to receive Jesus’ gift of salvation for me. And in turn, I gave Him my life.
When you believe and receive, all the junk that once separated you from God gets covered by Jesus’ payment on your behalf. You can get covered right now. In just a minute, I’m going to invite you to pray a simple “believe and receive” prayer with me that will give you the right to become a child of God.
And when you say this prayer, you will be born again into God’s forever family. So if this is something you’d like, then pray this prayer after me right now, quietly. I’ll pray it line by line for you, and you can repeat it after me. Here we go:
I am a sinner,
In need of a Savior,
And I invite you,
To be mine.
Come into my life,
And live through me,
And I will live for you,
For the rest of my life,
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Look up here please. As Jesus was getting ready to launch His Church, He told His disciples, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
If you prayed that prayer, there is a party going on in Heaven right now! And your name is on the banner over the door! Welcome to the family.
- Thank God that you are part of His family.
Every morning when you wake up, tell the Father how grateful you are to be His son or daughter.
Ask God to give you a chance, sometime this week, to share how you became a part of God’s family with someone who isn’t yet a part of God’s family. If you ask, He will oblige you, so be ready to share! And then…
Invite them to church next week. We’ve got one more great week in this series, and you’re going to love the message next Sunday.
Let’s just all say it: I Love Sundays!
Let’s pray. Father, thank you for doing so much to bring us into your family. Thank you for sending Jesus. We are so grateful! Use us this week to enlarge your family. We love you and we love Sundays. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.