Craig Smith - How to KNOW God is in Control
Well, hey, as Justin said, it’s a little easy to forget in all the craziness of the season right now, but this is actually Palm Sunday weekend. We’re one week out from Easter. And this is a special weekend all of its own. We call it Palm Sunday. And if you’re kind of new to this whole church thing, and maybe you’ve never heard that phrase, or maybe you’ve heard of it but you’re not exactly sure what it means, let me catch you up real quick. Kind of an interesting event in the life of Jesus leading up to Easter.
So for most of his ministry, Jesus was pretty low key about his identity as the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah, Savior, and King. But as he came into Jerusalem for that last time, on that Sunday, he did something different that he’d never done before. He came in differently. He came in riding on the previously unwritten colt that his disciples have procured for him.
Now, what’s interesting about that is in the ancient Near Eastern world, when you came in riding on a previously unridden colt, that was an announcement that you were a king. That was how kings went into their capitals. And so, Jesus kind of announced for the first time that he was, in fact, what people were beginning to suspect that he was, in fact, the King. And a lot of his people ran out from the city and they welcomed him as King. And the way they did that was they laid down palm branches. Palms are a symbol of peace. And so, by laying palm branches on the road as Jesus came in, they were saying, “We welcome you in peace.” In other words, “We really…we submit to you as our King.”
And so, they’re super excited about that. And it’s so interesting to me that in such a short span of time, things change so dramatically, right. On Sunday, he came in welcomed as King, and then just a few days later, he was arrested. He was subjected to a mockery of a trial. He was beaten and ultimately, he was crucified as a criminal. And that happened in just a few days. And it’s amazing, I mean, how often things can really spiral out of control so fast that we can hardly believe it.
A lot of you are probably feeling like I am like the same thing has happened to us around the world right now. It’s just a few weeks ago, everything was kind of fine, right? It was life as normal. We were going through our business. And then we began to hear rumors about something, and then very quickly we’re on lockdown. The whole world is on lockdown. And we’re seeing death tolls rise. We’re seeing the number of new cases around the world rise and that’s scary. At the same time, we’re seeing certain things drop, right? We’re seeing some of our supplies of food, or medical masks, or hand sanitizer, those things, those are dropping.
A lot of us are seeing that our retirement accounts are dropping because of the uncertainty in the economy. And there’s all kinds of things that it just kind of feels like it’s spiraling out of control. And it happened so, so fast. And I don’t know about you, but I hate when things get out of control. I don’t think I’m…well, I shouldn’t say that. I gotta be honest, I probably am a little bit of a control freak. But I think most of us, whether we would consider ourselves control freaks or not, we like to be able to exert a certain amount of control on our circumstances. And we’re in a situation where that’s just not happening. And a lot of us are struggling with that, maybe you’re struggling with that.
It kind of reminds me actually my attempt to bring control to things even when there’s really nothing I can do about it, or my feeling like I need to be in control even though there’s nothing I can do about it. It reminds me of something that my kids used to do when they were little. We’d go on these long car rides. And as we would…finally, we would end a long trip, we’re on our way home, it’s getting kind of late at night. My kids would be in the backseat and they would be doing what every little kid does in the backseat when they’re heading home. And that is they were piping up regularly with that ultra annoying question, “Are we there yet? Right? Are we there yet?”
And it actually was a little bit worse for me because for some reason, I have no idea why this is, but my kids…in addition to being obsessed with whether or not we were there yet, my kids were obsessed with the possibility that we might be lost actually. And they were constantly panicking about being lost. And so in addition to hearing, “Are we there yet?” I would also hear that mixed in with “Are we lost? Are we there yet? Are we lost? Do you know where we are, Dad? Do you know how to get where we’re going? Hey, we just passed the road, I wonder if that was our road? Did you know if that was our road? Did we miss it? Are we gonna be lost? Are we gonna make it? Are we there yet? Are we lost?” And it was so, so annoying, if I could just be honest with you.
It was so annoying because I was like what do you have to offer in this situation.? It’s like you’re trying to, like, make sure that I’m doing it right. But, like, I wanted to turn around and go “Can you drive?” “No.” “Oh, interesting that. Can you read a map? Oh, no, you can’t read it at all. Oh, interesting that. Do you have any idea where we actually live? No. Do you have any idea how to get from where we are to where we know? You don’t, then how about you just shut up?”
And there’s a part of me that really kind of wanted to say that, and I’m gonna be honest, there were sometimes that I said it. Kind of wish I hadn’t but I kind of did. I got on my nerves. I found myself this week as I was thinking about how out of control things are right now, and all of our need to kind of exert some control, and do what we can, and maybe even ask God some of those similar kinds of questions like, “God, are you really on the job? God, are you paying attention? Did you see that report? Are you watching the numbers, God? Are you here? Are you on it? Are you in control? Are you getting us where we need to go? Are we gonna get out of this? Are we there?” Maybe we’re asking a lot of the same kinds of questions.
And I wonder if God gets annoyed with us as I used to get with my kids when they were going, “Are we there yet? Are we lost? Are we there yet? Are we lost?” I wonder if God gets annoyed with our feeling like we need to exert control because we’re not entirely sure that he is in control. Probably not. Probably not. The reality is that God’s probably a whole lot more gracious with our fears than I was with my kids. I don’t actually think that God is upset with us for feeling like things are out of control. I don’t think he’s disappointed in us. And if that’s something you’re struggling with, I want you to know, I don’t think God’s disappointed with you. But I do think God wants us to be able to get to the place where we can trust that he is in control.
He wants us to actually get to that place that my kids used to get to. Eventually, they’d wear themselves out and then the “Are we there yet? Are we lost?” It would start to kind of trickle off, it’d be longer gaps between the times they said anything, and then it would just stop entirely. And we’d look in the rearview mirror and they were asleep. And not just like a little nap, like a deep, profoundly peaceful slumber. I mean, they were asleep asleep. And we would eventually get home because I did know how to get us where we were going. And my wife and I would get them out of the car seats, and we take them into the house, and we put them in their beds, and we tuck them in. And in the morning, they’d wake up at home, comfy and cozy in their own beds, safe and sound because their dad was in control and their dad was on and he did know what he was doing.
And I always thought it was interesting that they would go through this pattern of like, “I feel like I need to exert control, I need to make sure my dad’s paying attention. Did you miss that road? Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” But at the same time, eventually, they would get to that place where they could relax knowing that I was in control and fall asleep. And I really believe that God wants us to get to that same place. That place where maybe even in the backseat of this crisis, because we are in the backseat, we’re not in control, maybe even from the backseat, we can look at God and go, “Oh, that’s right, you got this. I don’t need to worry about this. I don’t need to try to be in control of this because you’re in control and you got this.”
You know, as followers of Jesus, I and I think a lot of us, we know that God’s in control in our heads, right? The problem is, sometimes there’s a gap between what we know in our heads and what we feel in our hearts, our ability to relax into that knowledge that God’s in control. And so, the question that we need to ask ourselves is this, how can we move our trust in God from our heads to our hearts? How can we move our trust in God from our heads and into our hearts? How can we move it from what we know to be true to what we actually feel to be true in the midst of a crisis? That’s what we’re gonna talk about today.
And I’m really excited to be able to share a story from the life of Jesus in that Easter week, that to me really helps me to bridge that gap between what I know in my head about God being in control and what I feel in my heart. And this is a story that’s really helped me over the years to be able to relax into the knowledge that God’s in control and stop trying to be a backseat driver. I’d love to have you join me. We’re gonna be in the Gospel of Matthew today. This is Matthew chapter 26. Matthew chapter 26, we’re going to be picking up in verse 1. And while you’re making your way there, let me just say this, if you’re new to the Bible or if you’re new to Mission Hills, we’re a Bible-driven church. And so, we always make sure that anything we say is actually coming out of the truth that God gives us in his Word.
Today, we’re gonna be talking about truth that comes from the Gospel of Matthew, as I said. Matthew is one of four books in the Bible that tell the story of Jesus’s life. And this particular story happens between Palm Sunday and Easter. And Matthew 26:1 says this. “Now when Jesus did finish saying all these things,” he just finished a teaching section, “when he finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, ‘As you know, the Passover is two days away and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” So interesting.
Two things here that we need to pay attention to, First, Jesus says, “As you know, the Son of Man is gonna be handed over to be crucified.” He had already told them that was gonna happen. But here’s the important thing to understand, the fact that he’s told them before and he’s telling them now means that he knew it. And this is so important. Listen to me. Jesus knew what was coming, okay? Jesus knew what was coming. Jesus was not surprised by the cross. Jesus had planned on the cross all along.
It was the plan from the very beginning, from the moment that the first human being sinned and rebelled against God and turned away from him. From the moment that we sinned and fell short of the glory of God. Unfortunately, as the Bible tells us, the wages or the consequence of sin is death. And we entered into spiritual separation from God that leads to our death, both in body but also in spirit eternally separated from God. From the moment that sin entered the world and the human race began to experience that, Jesus started out on his way to the cross. It was always the plan that he would come, and he would die as a sacrifice for our sins, to remove that penalty of death that we earned by our sin.
So, Jesus knew what was coming. He wasn’t surprised by this. It was the plan all along. So important we remember nothing you ever face is gonna take Jesus by surprise. Whatever we’re facing right now, Jesus knew it was coming. Whatever your family is facing right now, Jesus knew it was coming. Whatever you’re facing as an individual right now, whether it’s in your heart, your spirit, or in your finances, or in your relationships, Jesus knew it was coming. Okay? That’s the first thing we need to recognize here.
The second thing we need to recognize is this, Jesus wanted to die during the Passover. He wanted to die during the Passover, that’s what he says, right? “Two days away the Passover and the Son of Man,” that’s his favorite title for himself, “the Son of Man is going to be handed over to be crucified.” He knew that the crucifixion was coming. He wanted to do that. And specifically, he wanted to do it during the Passover, right, during the Passover.
Now, why is that? What is this Passover? Well, if you’re not familiar with it, I need to catch you up real quick because it’s really important understand this. So, there was a time in Israel’s history where Israel was enslaved in the land of Egypt. They were slaves to the Egyptian people. And at a certain point, God sent a man named Moses to go down and to tell the leader of the Egyptians, the Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” that’s kind of the famous line. So, Moses went down and he said, “Let my people go.” And Pharaoh basically resisted. He said, “No, I’m not gonna. You know, we’re getting a lot of good work out of them, we’re not gonna let that happen.”
And so, God began to send a series of plagues to convince the Pharaoh that he needed to let his people go, okay. Now, Pharaoh kind of did this sort of herky-jerky back and forth that a plague would happen. He’ll be like, “Okay, you can go.” And then he changes his mind “No you can’t.” And so, the plagues escalated until finally, the ultimate one was that an Angel of Death visited the land of Egypt, and it visited each household in the land of Egypt bringing some death to each of those households. But the Israelites, the people of God, they were told that this is gonna happen, and they were given a way to escape from it.
They were told that they were to sacrifice a pure, unblemished lamb. And they were to put some of the blood of that lamb on the doorposts over their homes. And when the Angel of Death came to that home and when he saw the blood of the sacrificed lamb on that doorpost, he passed over that home and no death came to it. That was the Passover then, that was the initial one, that the Angel of Death passed over the homes that had the blood of the sacrifice on them. And so, they continued to celebrate that and that’s why they called it the Passover.
And for thousands of years, the Israelites celebrated that. And what Jesus says here is that that yearly celebration of the time that death passed over the homes of God’s people is coming. And Jesus wanted to be sacrificed during the Passover because Jesus wanted everybody to understand that he was the ultimate Passover lamb. That the original event of Passover, that that lamb that was sacrificed and the blood put on the door that was just a foretaste. It was a foreshadowing. It was almost a prophetic event that pointed towards what Jesus would ultimately come and do in this moment. He would be the perfect lamb, the sinless, spotless, unblemished Lamb of God, the Son of God who would be sacrificed for the sins of God’s people.
And that when we trust in faith, by his sacrifice, his blood is upon us, and so death passes over us. We’re set free from our sin, and we’re forgiven. And we’re adopted into the family of God, we have eternal life with him. Jesus wanted to die during the Passover so that everybody understood that connection, okay? So Jesus wants to die and he wants to die during the Passover. And then it gets really interesting. Watch this.
And then it says, this is verse three, “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people,” those were enemies of God at this point, they were enemies of Jesus in particular at this point, “the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest whose name was Caiaphas. And they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. ‘But not during the festival,’ they said.” Isn’t that interesting? “‘But not during the festival,’ they said, ‘or there may be a riot among the people.'” So interesting, right?
Jesus wants to be sacrificed, but he wants to do it during the festival so people see the connection between him and the lamb. His enemies also want Jesus to die. To that extent, their plans are kind of in lockstep. But they say, “But not during the festival.” They’re afraid of the popularity that Jesus has with the people. They’re afraid there might be a rebellion among the people against the Jewish religious leaders.
And so Jesus wants to die, but during the festival. Now his enemies want him to die, but not during the festival. And it begins to raise this kind of interesting question, there’s a tension here that we’re gonna see throughout this entire story. And the tension basically revolves around this question, who’s in control? who’s in control? Is it gonna be Jesus? Is his timing gonna win out? Will he be able to sacrifice himself on the Passover? Or was it his enemies’ desire, are they in control? Is their desire gonna be the one that wins out in the end that he will not be sacrificed during the Passover? That’s the tension that runs this, who’s in control?
“Now, while Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. Now, when the disciples saw this, they were indignant. They said, ‘Why this waste?’ They asked, ‘This perfume, it could have been sold at a high price and then the money given to the poor.’ Now aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman?'” I love that? “‘Why are you bothering this woman? She’s done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. And when she poured the perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.'”
So at first the story might seem like it’s kind of unrelated, but now we see no, it’s still part of this continuing narrative of the story. Jesus is trucking towards the cross. He’s moving deliberately towards his willing sacrifice for our sins. And so, even in the midst of this, he says, “This is still about that. It’s about my death and my sacrifice.” What I think is interesting, though, is that he says that she did this to prepare him for that sacrifice and for his burial. Because I’m gonna guess she had no idea that’s what she was doing. Like I’m gonna guess that she didn’t get up that morning and go, “I gotta go get Jesus ready for his burial?” I don’t think so.
I think what happened was she experienced a prompting. She had something in her heart in her spirit that said, “Jesus is in town and I love Jesus. And I wanna show him how much I love him. I want to show him how devoted I am to him.” And so she had this expensive jar of perfume. It’s perfumed oil and she wanted to go and she wanted to anoint Jesus, she wanted to pour it over his head, which is the declaration of love. It was a declaration of her devotion to him. That’s all she wanted to do. She just wanted to show him how much she cared for him, how devoted she was to him.
But it’s interesting that, ultimately, she was doing this larger thing of beginning to prepare him for burial whether she realized that or not. And I love it, she just responded to a prompting and yet, check this out, this is what Jesus finally said, he said, “Truly I tell you, wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.” I love it. She responded to a prompting, probably felt like a fairly small thing to do, maybe a little bit of a strange thing like “That might be weird.” She probably debated “Should I do it, should I not.” But at the end of the day, she responded to that prompting. She came and she did what God had laid in her heart to do, that thing.
And Jesus says, “Because of what you did, your story is gonna be told when my story is told.” And I love that because here, this is so important, church, when we respond to God’s prompting, we get to be part of his story. When we respond to his prompting, we get to be part of his story. When God lays something in our hearts and we respond to it, we get to be part of the bigger narrative of what God’s doing. We get to be part of the bigger story of what God’s doing. We may not always understand how what we’re doing is part of that, we may not understand how exactly God’s gonna use it, but when we respond to God’s prompting, we get to be part of his story.
You know, and right now we’re in one of those seasons where there’s a tremendous opportunity for us to respond to God’s promptings. And it may be that you find yourself stuck at home alone, and you have this thought “I should call so and so and just check on them, see how they’re doing. Or maybe I should find out if my elderly neighbors do need some groceries, and maybe I could step in and do that. Or maybe I just need to make a plate of cookies and take them over to a neighbor and hit the doorbell and dash.” Right? Maybe leave a note saying, “I was just thinking about you, I just want you to know I cared about you.” Maybe it’s just some tiny little thing. And it’s just, it’s there and you’re like, “I don’t know, I don’t know if it would really do any good. I don’t know how valuable it is.” But if it’s a prompting to do a good thing, I’m gonna encourage you to do it. Because when we do that, when we respond to God’s prompting, we get to be part of his story and we don’t wanna miss out on that.
Just yesterday, I had one of those promptings. I felt like God was saying, “Hey, you know what, you’ve got some mentors that have spoken into your life and they’ve continued to do that throughout this crisis, but I wonder if anybody has reached out to them. I wonder if anybody’s checking on them.” And so I had that prompting, and I just grabbed my phone and I texted a couple of these guys, “Hey, I just checking on some of the people that God has used powerfully in my life, you guys doing okay?” And one of them responded back, “You have no idea what a tremendous blessing that was to me today to hear that, that God had used me and that you were thinking about me.” And I was just like, “I’m so glad I did that.” It’s such a small thing. But when we respond to God’s prompting, we get to be part of a much bigger story that we’re only seeing the outside edges of.
And so she does that right. She responds to that prompting. Unfortunately, one of his closest disciples, one of the 12 is responding to a very different kind of prompting, not from God. And verse 14 says this, “And then one of the 12, the one called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him to you?’ And so they counted out for him 30 pieces of silver. And from then on, Judas watched for an opportune time to hand him over.”
Now I just wanna push in on a word there. I said that they began to look for an opportune time. A lot of translations, the Bible wasn’t originally written in English. Matthew was originally written in Greek. And so we’re reading English translations. And a lot of the modern translations, they don’t say opportune time, they say an opportunity. But I think more literally what is said here is that they begin to look for an opportune time. And I think it’s important to be literal, because what Matthew is saying is that Judas and the enemies of Jesus, they began looking for…basically, they were looking for the, I guess, the ideal time, the perfect moment to do this.
Now, what would the perfect moment be? What would the ideal moment be? Well, it depends on your perspective, right? From Jesus’s perspective, the ideal moment, the opportune time, is right during the festival, so that nobody can miss this connection to him being the Passover lamb. But from the enemies of Jesus’s perspective, it’s not during the festival. And so Judas is looking for a way to hand Jesus over that’s not gonna happen during the festival.
And so we have this tension again, what’s really going on here is it’s a control battle. Who’s in control? Who’s gonna win out? Whose timing is gonna actually play out? “And then, on the last…or the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and they asked, ‘Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ And he replied, ‘Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says that my appointed time is near. I’m gonna celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.” So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. Now, when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the 12. And while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.'”
And if we can just stop for a moment, and recognize, like, how uncomfortable things must have gotten at that moment, right? I mean, they’re having this amazing time together. They’re with this amazing man that they’re beginning to understand is a whole lot more than just a teacher. He’s the Lord. He’s the King of kings. He’s the Son of God. He’s the Savior they’ve been longing for. He’s the King they’ve been awaiting. And then they’re beginning to realize that they’re having this moment where they’re celebrating God’s faithfulness in the past. They’re sitting in Jesus, God’s faithfulness in the present and for the future. And then all of a sudden, Jesus just goes, “Hey, just while you’re eating, don’t let me stop you. Keep going. I just wanna let you know, one of you is gonna betray me.” If you can imagine how that must have just killed the mood, right? Everything got silent all of a sudden.
Verse 22 says, “And they were very sad. And then they began to say to him, one after the other, ‘Well, surely, you don’t mean me, Lord?’ And Jesus replied, ‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him, but woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man,'” by the way, that was his favorite title for himself. “‘Woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man, it would be better for him if he had not been born.'” Again, it just gets heavier and heavier, right? At some point, after Jesus has dropped this bomb “One of you is gonna betray me,” one of the disciples, and if I had to guess I’m gonna guess it was probably Peter, that’s just who Peter is. He’s like a puppy dog with his feet a little bit too big for him. He’s enthusiastic. He’s always leaping forward. And I think Peter probably was the first one to go, “Hey, you’re not talking about me? Are you? No, okay, good.”
And then, of course, one has done it, it’s not like the others can pretend like they didn’t hear that. And so, Peter did it. And then another one’s like, “Well, you’re not talking about me, are you?” And then the other guys go, “Well, you’re not talking about me?” And they go around the table. And they’re all going, “Well, you’re not talking about me, are you?” And then it gets to Judas. And there’s a good possibility that Judas was actually next to Jesus. And so this conversation that happens next might have happened fairly secretly, the rest of the disciples may not have known much about it.
But verse 25 says this “And then finally Judas,” because it’s his turn right? Everybody else has done it. Everybody else has said “You’re not telling me are you?” What’s he gonna do? Pretend like that’s not happening? So verse 25 says, “And then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, ‘Well, surely, you don’t mean me, Rabbi?’ And Jesus answered, maybe even whispered, ‘You’ve said so?'” In other words, yeah, it’s you. And I can’t even imagine what was going through Judas’s mind at that moment. I mean, somewhere along the line, Judas’ understanding of who Jesus is has gone off track. He doesn’t see in the person of Jesus what the rest of the disciples see. He doesn’t understand who Jesus is. And so, in that moment, I think he must have been absolutely stunned. The other disciples at this point may not have been surprised that Jesus knew what Judas was planning. But Judas, I think, was surprised by it.
Jesus looks at him in this moment and goes basically, “You said it. You got it right, Judas.” And Matthew…we’re gonna stop right there in Matthew, we’re gonna pick up the rest of the story this Friday as we celebrate Good Friday and get ready for our Easter celebration next weekend, but we’re gonna stop there for now. Matthew actually kind of moves on in another part of the story, but some of the other Gospel say that at this moment, or shortly thereafter, Judas got up quietly and he left. And he went to the Jewish leadership. And I really wish I could have heard that conversation.
My guess is that it something like this, Judas went in, and he found them, and he said, “Hey, he knows. He knows that I’ve decided to do this. He knows that you’re working with me. He knows what we’re doing.” And they’re like, “Okay, what are we supposed to do about that?” And I think Judas probably said, “We’re gonna have to do it now. We can’t wait.” And they were, “No, no, we have to wait. We’re right in the middle of the Passover. We’re not gonna do it now. Remember, your job was to find the ideal time and this is not the ideal time. So no, we’re not gonna grab him tonight. No, we’re not gonna go through this right now.” And Judas said, “I don’t think you have any choice in the matter. He knows. He knows what’s going on. I don’t know how he knows, but he absolutely knows. So if you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna have to do it now before this thing gets out of control.”
And that’s not what they wanted to do, but they didn’t really have any choice. And so, as the story goes, as all the Gospels reported that night, they went and they arrested Jesus. That night, they subjected him to a fake trial with a lot of fake news and a lot of fake witnesses saying things about Jesus that were just lies. And early the next morning, they took him to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who ultimately had him flogged and crucified.
And all the Gospels tell us that Jesus was hung on the cross early the next morning and he hung there for a few hours until the ninth hour. The ninth hour as the Israelites thought about it, as the Jewish people thought about it, basically, you counted things from sunup to sundown and so sunup was about 6 a.m. So the ninth hour was nine hours from sunup, which puts you about 3:00. And the Gospels all agreed that Jesus, at 3:00, looked up to heaven and he cried out, “It is finished.” And then he died.
And you might wonder, what’s the significance of 3:00? Well, according to Jewish tradition, guess at what time the Passover lambs were sacrificed for the Passover celebration. Yeah, 3 p.m., the ninth hour. And so here’s the thing, let’s be really clear about this. Jesus died, not just in the festival, not just in the midst of it when you could maybe make the association, Jesus died right when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed. At that precise moment, as they were beginning the sacrifice of the lambs, the sacrifice of God’s Lamb, Jesus, took place. He breaths his last and he said, “It is finished.” Jesus died right when the Passover lambs were being sacrificed.
And here’s the thing, on one level…that alone is encouraging, right? On one level, all we need to do is say, “Hey, look, God is in control. God gets his way every single time.” As we said last week, God always wins. And on one level, that’s maybe all we need. But there’s something even more profound going on here. I wanna make sure we don’t miss. Yes, God always wins. Yes, God always gets his way. But did you notice in the story how he got his way? Did you notice what allowed him to go to the cross and to be sacrificed at precisely the time that he wanted to be sacrificed? It was Judas.
See, if Judas hadn’t agreed to betray him, if the Jewish leadership hadn’t recruited a spy from within the midst of the ranks of the disciples, Jesus couldn’t have pulled this off. Jesus couldn’t have forced their hand and forced them to do what he wanted to do at the time that he wanted to do it. He took this betrayer, and he turned that betrayal into an opportunity to do exactly what he wanted to do all along. Jesus wouldn’t have been sacrificed at this moment if it hadn’t been for the betrayer in his midst. And I love that because it tells me that Jesus accomplished his will by means of the very thing that was intended to obstruct it. Jesus accomplished his will by means of the very thing that was intended to obstruct it, not just in spite of, not just in the midst of, by means of. I love that. I love that.
Listen to me, you wanna move your trust from God from your head and into your heart. You wanna go from what we know to be true that God’s in control to really feeling it? Here’s what we need to focus on. We know God’s in control because he turns obstacles into opportunities. He turns obstacles into opportunities. Those things that look like they’re opposing his will, he uses to accomplish it. We see that throughout Scripture and we see it in our own lives and we’re seeing it right now in the midst of this coronavirus thing, right?
I don’t know how this worked. I don’t know if the devil was talking with anybody. I don’t think that they came up with the virus, but I imagine at some point Satan and his demons were having a strategy session. Maybe they were having a dream session, they’re going “You know what would be awesome? It would be awesome if we could close the doors of all the churches in the world. Wouldn’t be great if we could shut them down so that nobody was hearing the good news of Jesus?” And then you know, this coronavirus thing hit. I don’t think they created it. I just don’t believe that. But I do think they might be behind a lot of the fear that it’s created. I think they might be driving a lot of the fear that people have that’s leading to this panic.
But they gotta be gleeful, at the very least, right, that the doors of all the churches are closed. And they had to be celebrating that until all these churches started going online. And almost every church that I’ve talked to, every church around the world that’s doing online services has found that they’ve about doubled their attendance from their weekend in-person gatherings to their weekend online gatherings. We’ve seen about three times increase. Some churches have seen as many as 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 times their regular weekend engagement. We’re seeing people come to Jesus because people are tuning in, they’re not having anything else to do and people are inviting them to come join them for service. And they’re doing that and it’s crazy.
We have seen almost three times as many people saying yes to faith in Jesus on a simple weekly basis than we have at any other time in our history. It’s insane. These things are happening. People are going out to the grocery stores, our student ministries pastor, Dave Eloe, just recently told us that he went out to the grocery store wearing a Mission Hills shirt, and he had four separate conversations with people who saw the shirt and went “Do you go to that church? I’ve been watching that church for the first time and I’m thinking about going to that church. How would I do that?” I mean, that kind of stuff is happening. The church doors might be closed, but the Church is not out of business right now.
These things might have looked like obstacles to God’s will, but the reality is, he’s turned them into opportunities to do even greater things. Listen to me, we know that God’s in control because he turns obstacles into opportunities. So what are we gonna do? We’re gonna do two things. Number one, we’re gonna remember that God is in control, right? We’re gonna remember that God is in control, because we know that he turns obstacles into opportunities. He takes things that look like they’re supposed to be opposing his will, and he turns them into opportunities to accomplish it, okay? So we’re gonna remember that God’s in control. Number two, we’re gonna respond to what he prompts us to do. We’re gonna be like that woman who had no idea the part that she was playing in a much bigger story, but she was responding to that prompting from God. That’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna remember that God’s in control, and we’re gonna respond to what he prompts us to do.
Let me give you three things real quick to help you kind of focus on that. The first one is this, we’re gonna look back, okay? We’re gonna look back because we’re gonna ask ourselves the question, “When have I seen God turn an obstacle into an opportunity in my life?” Look at your own life and all the times that God has turned things that look like they were gonna get in the way of his will for you into the very things that accomplish it. As followers of Jesus, I bet all of us can speak to those examples. We can speak to times that that’s happened, and we didn’t know him in the midst of it.
But afterwards, we look back and went, “Aah, I see what you’re doing, God.” So we’re gonna look back. We’re gonna look back. We’re gonna read the Bible and we’re gonna see these stories that happen time and time again, of things that look like they were opposing God’s will, and he turned them into opportunities to accomplish it. So we’re gonna look back. We need to do that looking back and seeing all the ways God does this, it helps us to bridge the gap between what we know in our heads and what we feel in our hearts. So we’re gonna look back.
Second thing we’re gonna do practically is we’re gonna look around. We’re gonna look around us and we’re gonna ask, you know, “What do I sense God prompting me to do?” Maybe it’s that make a phone call. Maybe it’s that check in on a neighbor. Maybe it’s join the Mission Hills Care Finder Program so that you can be involved in meeting needs. But whatever God’s laying on your heart, we’re gonna respond to that because we’re gonna look around and ask, “What do I sense God prompting me to do?”
And then the third thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna look ahead. We’re gonna look forward, okay? We’re gonna look forward and we’re gonna ask, “How could God turn one of these ‘obstacles’ or some of these ‘obstacles’,” and I’m gonna put those in air quotes, “into an opportunity?” We’re gonna start to imagine what God could do in the midst of all this. You might go, “Why imagine?” Because no matter what you imagine, it’s not enough.
I love this verse. The Apostle Paul writing to the church in the city of Athens, just listen to this. He says this “Now to him who is able, to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” I love that. According to his power, there’s work within us. He says, “Trust yourselves to God who is able to do immeasurably more than we can even imagine.” And so I want us to imagine, because I really believe that sometimes imagining what God could do gives us traction, right? We should have hope, but sometimes imagining what God could do actually gives us some traction and some direction to begin moving forward as we begin to respond to those prompts.
So what are we gonna do? We’re gonna remember that God’s in control, because the very things that look like they’re opposing his will, he uses to accomplish it. Second thing we’re gonna do is we’re gonna respond to those prompts that he gives us. We’re gonna remember that God’s in control, we’re gonna respond to what he prompts us to do. And in that way, not only will you find hope and peace in the midst of this, but you will be hope and peace in the midst of this. Let’s pray.
Hey, God, thank you. Thank you for the stories from your Word. Thank you for the stories from our own lives that we’ve seen time and time again that nothing gets in the way of your will. And then, in fact, beyond that, we can know you’re in control because the things that look like obstacles, you turn into opportunities. You make opportunities out of obstacles. And Lord, that is a key truth that helps us to bridge the gap between what we know in our heads and what we feel in our hearts when it feels like things are spiraling out of control. Lord, so cement that truth in our hearts. Help us to remember that. And Lord, speak to us, prompt us. We’ll be your people. We will do what you call us to do when you prompt us to live as your people. We are the Church. Church is not a building we come to. It’s not a set of programs we participate in. It’s the people of God engaged in the mission of God, and we have tremendous opportunity to be on mission with you and to be part of your story. So, Lord, prompt us. Make us sensitive to your voice, give us the courage to respond.
Now if you’re a follower of Jesus, would you do something for me right now? Would you begin praying for the people that are watching all over the world who don’t know Jesus. They don’t know this God who turns obstacles into opportunities. Maybe they’ve heard about him and maybe it’s you, and you’re tuned in right now because you’re in desperate need of hope. Maybe somebody shared a link with you or they shared the stream with you, and you went, “Hey, I got nothing else to do. I’m gonna check this out.” And maybe in the midst of hearing about this, you’ve gone “Man, I wanna know that God. I wanna have a relationship with the God who turns what looks like obstacles into opportunities. I wanna be in a relationship with that God.”
And you’re wondering, how do you do that? Here’s how you do it, I’m gonna tell you and I’m gonna lead you in how to do it right now. I’m gonna lead you in doing it right now. So God loves you so much he sent his own Son to die. Jesus came willingly. He sacrificed himself as the Passover lamb, and that when we trust him, when we trust what he did for us, we can be forgiven and set free. He died for you so that you can be forgiven and free. Three days later, he rose from the dead. We’ll celebrate that this weekend, this coming weekend.
He rose from the dead and he offers us salvation by faith. Just by trusting at what he did. That’s how the blood of Jesus gets put on our doorpost. And that’s how we are set free from sin and from death. And we’re set free for a life with God for all eternity. And if you’ve never trusted in the blood of Jesus that was poured out for you, and if you’re ready to say yes to that, if you’re ready to be forgiven, here’s how you do it. Wherever you are, you are just gonna have this conversation with God. Just say after me say:
God, I have done wrong, I have sinned. And I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for coming and being my sacrificial lamb, my Passover lamb. Jesus, I believe you rose from the dead. Would you come into my life? I’m putting my trust in you. I’m saying yes to you. I’m yours from now and forever. Jesus, I love you and I trust you. Amen.