Easter Eggs

As someone who grew up playing way too many video games, I get really excited about Easter eggs. Again, this morning, we’re not talking about dyed eggs or hollow plastic shells. We’re talking about finding some hidden message or item within the game. Sometimes developers would leave a bit of themselves hidden within the overarching story and discovering what a lot of people tend to overlook is a lot of fun. Sometimes you have to go through elaborate button combinations to unlock it. But, other times, it’s right there in front of you, and you wonder how you ever missed it in the first place.

But, Easter eggs aren’t limited to just video games. They can be found pretty much anywhere. In fact, as we discovered in week one of this series, movies have a lot of Easter eggs as well. Directors and video effects teams like to leave a bit of their personality for discovery. One of my favorite things to spot in a movie is a prop that doesn’t really belong. Sometimes the props are anachronistic to the timeline of the story, and other times it’s just an effort to be creative because who is really going to notice, right?

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Well, I grabbed a few screen shots of movies using common items as really clever props, and chances are you never even noticed. Take the 1990 Schwarzenegger movie Total Recall for example. This movie embodies the sci-fi genre. I mean, check out these fancy guards. They look pretty futuristic and hi-tech, don’t they? That is until you realize those fancy wrist computers are literally just calculators strapped to their arms. And, teachers always told us that we needed to be able to do math on paper because you might not always have a calculator with you. Obviously they didn’t see the future we were heading toward.

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No matter what your feelings about The Phantom Menace might be, Star Wars is always going to have some cool effects. After all, they have light sabers and pod racers and droids. I think all these effects limited the budget they had remaining for home decor. Check out that wall. That’s a scoop ball. And, to the right of it, isn’t that one of those plastic tug-of-war dog toys? I think the lesson here is that if you can spray paint it silver, why wouldn’t you hang it on the wall?

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Tony Stark, or Marvel Comics’ Iron Man, is a multi-billionaire inventor who specializes in futuristic weapons and technologies. So, it’s good to know where he gets his inspiration for those inventions. I mean, come on! That’s literally just a Nerf gun that has been painted!

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Okay, one more and probably my favorite one. Pastor Jason mentioned in our fist week that Star Trek director J.J. Abrams, as an avid Star Wars fan, hid R2-D2 in the movie. But, that’s not the only thing out of place in the movie. All that Enterprise technology is pretty cool, huh? It looks like they have a security camera and some type of touchscreen panel. And, wait, hold on—that’s one of those Dyson hand dryers that used to be in bathrooms everywhere. They didn’t even try to hide this one with paint or anything!

I share these Easter eggs with you because I think it demonstrates how easy it is to overlook something when we don’t really know what we’re looking at. When we aren’t looking for what we ought to be looking for, the details will escape us. The circumstances and environments we find ourselves within can often cause us to miss the deeper reality of what God is doing.

This morning, we are going to look at one such moment within the Gospel of John. Throughout his gospel, John paints this incredible picture of Jesus Christ, His character, His motives, and His interactions, and he captures them in these seven “I AM” statements of Jesus. Each time, Jesus is radically echoing God’s declaration recorded in the Old Testament. You might remember God saying to Moses from the burning bush, [Exodus 3:14] God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

And, so, we see Jesus say these seven I AM statements, combined with these amazing metaphors that express His redemptive relationship with the world. We read things like,

  • [John 6:35] Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
  • [John 8:12] Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
  • [John 10:9] “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”
  • [John 10:11] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
  • [John 14:6] Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[
  • [John 15:1] “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”
  • [John 11:25] Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…

He’s not merely communicating something He does by these words; rather, He is showing us who He is.

They’re all incredible statements. But, it’s this last statement—actually the fifth I AM statement in the series—that I want to zoom in on this morning. Because it’s so interesting to me that Jesus doesn’t say that He brings resurrection or that He gives life. He’s not merely communicating something He does by these words; rather, He is showing us who He is. And, if we don’t know what it is we’re looking for, we’ll miss it. So, He is revealing more of Himself to us, and what He reveals rocked the disciples and a family that was dear to Him and, prayerfully, it will change us here today. But, to understand why He’s saying these words, we need to rewind our story to the beginning of John 11. Here’s what we read:

Defeated by Doubt

[1] Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. [2] It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother was ill. [3] So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

Scripture is clear that this family loved Jesus, and He loved them. Again, Mary is the one who would break the perfume jar and wash the feet of Jesus with her tears in John 12. There’s just a deep affection for Christ there, and it’s reciprocated by Jesus, too.

Prior to this moment, Jesus and His disciples had been doing ministry in Jerusalem. And, the religious rulers didn’t like what Jesus was teaching and doing, so they conspired to kill Him. But, it wasn’t Jesus’ appointed time to die, so Jesus and the disciples leave Jerusalem and did ministry in the countryside until things could cool down a bit. But, that’s when Lazarus gets sick, and it’s not just a cold. It’s bad sick.

This morning, some of you know what it’s like to be told that the one you love is sick. Maybe it’s you who has received the news. Maybe it wasn’t said in those words, but there are those of you here who are hurting because you’ve received some bad news. You’ve heard the words, “It’s cancer,” or, “We’re going to have to let you go,” or, “I don’t think I love you anymore.” What were those words said to you that hit you like a ton of bricks? Whatever it might be, you know what it’s like to be in a bad way. Yet, in the middle of all that, Jesus says something amazing,

[4] But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

He says, “This isn’t going to end the way you think it will. This isn’t going to destroy Lazarus or your family. It won’t destroy you.” In fact, Jesus says that this is for the glory of God. And, that seems good, right? So, naturally, when Jesus said this, the disciples are thinking they’re going to pack their bags right away and head to Bethany to heal Lazarus. And, that’s what we read in the next verse,

[6] So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Wait, wait, wait—that can’t be right, can it? They don’t leave right away? Even after Lazarus’ family did the right thing and went after Jesus in their time of need? Even after Jesus said this doesn’t end in death? Even when the situation is only getting worse by the minute? He stayed for two more days?! Why isn’t Jesus running to Lazarus? Why is He allowing the suffering to linger? Why does He wait longer? And, then, in a moment I’m sure confused Lazarus’ family and each of the disciples, Lazarus does die. And, it’s only then that Jesus says, “Okay, let’s head to Bethany.”

[8] The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” [14] Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, [15] and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” [16] So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

You can hear the doubt in Thomas’ words, can’t you? How many of you would be honest enough this morning to say that you’ve had doubt at some point in our life? Raise up your hands. Look, I know Thomas gets a bad rap as a doubter, but if we’re honest with ourselves this morning, we’ve been there, too, haven’t we? We know what it’s like to feel defeated by doubt. Some of you know what it is like to pray for something and watch God just wait longer—like He’s not moving at all. You know what it’s like to pray for something only to experience the situation move further in the opposite direction, and you feel like you’re just praying in futility. You know what it’s like to pray a prayer, believing that God could and that He would, but then He didn’t. You know what it’s like to doubt. In Thomas’ mind, Jesus didn’t save Lazarus, can’t save Lazarus, and now they’re all going to die if they go.

Look, I know what it’s like to doubt. As a newly married couple, my wife and I were devastated when not just our first pregnancy, or second pregnancy, but three recurrent pregnancies ended in miscarriage. When we were pregnant with our fourth, I have to admit to you, I didn’t enjoy it. I wanted to be elated and to celebrate, but in the back of my mind I had this doubt and fear that it was just going to happen again. I can’t tell you how relieved and joyful we were when Gwen was born and finally in our arms.

Then, when we were pregnant with our fifth, I told myself I was going to trust and experience the joy an expecting family should. But, then, Abby suffered a ruptured hematoma that threatened our baby and our peace of mind. Later in the pregnancy, the doctors would tell us that they weren’t seeing the type of growth they wanted to see for the baby, and the doubt crept back in. But, praise be to God that a healthy, vibrant Lydia Joy was born. And, again, now almost a year ago, our family grew to five when Sadie Mae was born. But, I’ve wrestled with doubt every time.

Friends, Thomas may be labeled as the doubting disciple, but we’ve all been there—feeling defeated by our doubts. Will God really do what He said He will do? Why is God delaying in the answer? Where was God when I needed Him the most? Sometimes we wonder if it is even worth it at all! C.S. Lewis himself once wrote in a letter, “We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” Sometimes we doubt the pain is worth the reward.

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.

C.S. Lewis

If you are there this morning, Jesus wants to speak to you a message of confidence in the Lord. We do not just serve the God who was or the God who will be, but—as we will see in just a moment—we serve the God who declares, “I AM.” And, before you leave here today, you’re going to have the opportunity to respond by laying down your doubts and picking up the confidence that is found in Christ alone. But, we’re not done yet because there are other individuals in our story who are not only overcome by doubt but have a different struggle of their own. Here’s what we read:

Defeated by Discouragement

[17] Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. [20] So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.

Now, I don’t want to read too much into this, but there is some out-of-character behavior that should be noted here. You can read through several other stories in the gospels, and you will see that Mary is the one that typically runs to Jesus. She’s the one that sits at His feet while Martha is preoccupied with the tasks. Mary is the one who washes Jesus’ feet while Martha is tending to the preparations and serving dinner. But, not this time. This time, when Jesus comes, Mary doesn’t move; Martha does.

See, it was Jewish custom that after a death everyone should mourn for a period of seven days known as Shiva. And, if you were grieving the loss of a parent, you would actually be considered in mourning for twelve months. And, if you were mourning for any other family members, like a brother, you were grieving for thirty days in what is known as Shloshim.

In other words, Mary is following tradition—she’s observing the cultural rules —but Martha breaks them. And, this is wildly uncharacteristic of these two women. Martha breaks the rules of mourning and runs out to meet Jesus, and everything she says here seems correct but, as we will see, it’s incomplete. Here’s what she says:

[21] Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. [22] But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you. [23] Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” [24] Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Martha runs out to Jesus and immediately brings up the past. There’s some pain in those first words, and who can blame her? Imagine for a moment what it would have been like for these two sisters to try to nurse their dying brother back to health while waiting on Jesus to get there. Except He doesn’t come in time. They’re left on their own with no electricity, or ICU, or medical staff. It’s just these two sisters fighting tooth and nail to save their brother. They watched their brother’s breathing become laborious and watched him gasp for air until the moment came where he was gone. So, understandably, Martha says, “Jesus, if You were here… Why weren’t You here?”

Then, Martha moves from asking Jesus where He was to what I think is more of a religious platitude. It’s just a trite statement—something she thinks she should say because it sounds right. And, I’m not trying to be hard on Martha here, but I don’t really think she believes it when she says, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, He will give you.” Why? Well, because we read toward the end of the story,

[39] Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”

The King James Version actually records Martha’s words as, “Lord, by this time he stinketh.” Stinketh is actually in the Bible. That’s how dead Lazarus was; stinketh is a whole other level of stench, friends. But, this is why I think Martha’s theology falls short. She’s quick to say, “Even now, Lord, you can do all things,” but when Jesus says, “Okay, let’s move the stone,” she replies, “Uh, Jesus… You sure about that?”

And, this leads me to our second point this morning. Because not only are there people who feel defeated in their doubt, but there are those who feel defeated in discouragement. I mean, look at these sisters. You have one who won’t even go to see Jesus, right? Why bother? In her mind, she doesn’t need to go out there because Lazarus is already dead. Yeah, okay, Jesus is here, but so what? There’s nothing He can do about this now anyway. Mary’s heart is discouraged.

But, then, you have another sister who says all the right things but doesn’t really believe it in her heart. She’s gripped, not by faith, but by discouragement. It’s like our church clothes, right? We put on good clothes, and we come to church. Some of us even know all the Christian things to say. Things like, “Praise the Lord!,” or, “Hallelujah!,” or, “Glory to God. He is risen,” but inside you feel defeated because of your discouraging circumstances. You smile on the outside but on the inside, you’re really, deeply, truly discouraged.

Jesus invites us to look beyond the what ifs in life and see the what is.

Some of you are there this morning. And, as we look at the lives of Mary and Martha, it feels like you’re looking into a mirror because you understand their discouragement. Some of you this morning know to say all the right things, but what you’re really needing today is someone to see past the church clothes and to understand what you’re feeling. If that’s you, Jesus is inviting you to the same thing He invited Mary and Martha to do. We’re going to see in a moment how Jesus invites us to look beyond the what ifs in life and see the what is. He desires to encourage and build up your discouraged heart. And, before you leave here today, you’re going to have the opportunity to respond by laying down your discouragements and picking up the strength that is found in Christ alone. But, we’re not done yet because these individuals are wrestling with more than doubt and discouragement. Here’s what we read next:

Defeated by Despair

[32] Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Where have we heard this before? It’s the exact same thing Martha said when she ran to Jesus in verse 21. I think this goes to prove something we already know to be true: our attitudes and the things we say are contagious. That means when we choose to have a positive attitude and to speak life, it can affect those around us. It also means that when we choose negativity and hopelessness, others will begin to speak the same language. Friends, can I just say that if you are struggling with the attitudes and words of those around you, you might first consider your contribution.

Our attitudes and the things we say are contagious.

In the case of Mary and Martha, their discouragement is contagious. Yet, Mary takes it a step further. At least, Martha spoke about a future hope and future resurrection. But, Mary doesn’t offer anything else. Her discouragement has led her to hopelessness. Jesus’ delay seems to make the death of Lazarus both avoidable and thereby unnecessary. Yet, here we are. And, when hopelessness has gripped our hearts, we find ourselves at the third point for this morning: defeated by despair. Not only do we feel the weight of our present circumstances, we feel the loss of future hope. Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, “The weak, despairing person is unwilling to hear anything about any consolation eternity has for him.” Future hope is outweighed by present pain, and we find ourselves despairing.

The weak, despairing person is unwilling to hear anything about any consolation eternity has for him.

Soren Kierkegaard

Some of you here this morning know what it is like to despair. You carry with you the wasted moments, mistakes you wish you could undo, unresolved conflict in relationships, guilt, shame, and blame. All of these are the ingredients for despair. You know what it is like to feel like you just can’t catch a break. Like, you understand hopelessness and have wrestled with thoughts like, “What’s the point now?” And, the pain of your present circumstances has choked out the future hope of anything better.

If that’s you this morning, Jesus desires to restore your hope. And, it’s not just a future hope. And, it’s not just a hope that someday things will change. It’s a hope that even now in the midst of these circumstances, He will be present. He will come near. Do not allow your circumstances to displace the power of resurrection in your life.

And, so, up to this point in our story Lazarus has died, the disciples have doubted, Martha is discouraged, and Mary is depressed in her despair. I get it—this has not been an uplifting message so far, and we’re nearing the end of our time together. This is a heavy passage in Scripture, and I want you to feel the tension that each individual experienced because, honestly, I think we are all familiar with it ourselves. So, before you leave here today, you’re going to have the opportunity to respond by laying down your despair and picking up the hope that is found in Christ alone.

The shift occurs when we stop worrying about what happens next, and we rejoice in Who is with us now.

But, how do we get there? How do we lay down our doubts for confidence in the Lord? How do we lay down our discouragements for His strength? How do lay down our despair for hope? Friends, the shift occurs when we stop worrying about what happens next, and we rejoice in Who is with us now.

Defeated by Death

See, Martha had it right but her heart wasn’t convinced when she said, “But even now, I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Martha was seeking after something, but Jesus knew her deeper need of knowing Someone. And, so He responds to her by revealing who He is, and He says,

[25] Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Resurrection is not an event. It’s a Person

Friends, resurrection is not an event. It’s a Person. This is the Easter egg in our narrative this morning that we can miss if we don’t know what we are looking for. See, a lot of us are like Mary and Martha, carrying our burdens and our hurts and our doubts and our discouragements and our despair, and we pray something like, “God, if you would just do this, then things would be different. Then, I would have what I need.”

But, Jesus is saying the same thing to you as He is saying to Martha. “No, no, no, I’m the solution to your problem. It’s Me you need.” Jesus submits Himself as the solution to their problems. He’s not just the One who heals; He’s the healer. He’s not just the One who gives life; He is life. He’s not just the One who resurrects; He is the resurrection. He doesn’t just answer prayer; He is the answer to prayer.

What is it that you think you need most desperately right now in your life? Friends, we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s something other than Jesus. God forgive us! He is the solution. If you find yourself here this morning and all you know is defeat and death, run to Jesus. Know Jesus. Find Resurrection. Discover Life. And, the way that Jesus loves us is not just by doing things for us; that is drastically falling short of what the gospel teaches. No, the way that Jesus loves us is by making relationship possible and revealing more of Himself to us.

That’s why Jesus’ “I AM” statements are so profound. It’s intentional that Jesus is echoing the words of God from Exodus. If you’re not familiar with the context of the Scripture we read at the beginning of this morning’s message, God had told Moses to go back to Egypt and rescue his people. But, Moses, like a lot of us would, began to freak out. Egypt wanted him dead. Not only that, but there was simply no way that the king of Egypt would ever let his workforce go.

So, Moses is like, “What are you talking about, God? Who am I to do that? I’m a wanted man. I’m a weak man. I stutter! You’ve got the wrong person for the job.” Moses has this identity crisis because he feels insufficient. He feels like he’s not enough. And, then God speaks that verse we’ve read already this morning,

[Exodus 3:14] God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

This is God’s antidote to Moses’ problems. And, I’m sure that didn’t clear up any of the doubts Moses had in his mind, but God was clear: “Moses this is what you need to know right now. I Am who I Am.” He doesn’t say, “Moses, you’re great, man. You’ve got this. You’ll be fine.” No, what does God do to solve Moses’ crisis? He reminds Moses who God is. The answer to our crises is not found by first focusing on who we are, but by focusing on who God is. And, in the same way, when Jesus says to Martha and Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life,” He is reminding them that He is all they really need. In their doubts, discouragements, and despair, Jesus is the answer. For us this morning, Jesus is the answer. His “I AM” is more than enough for our “I needs.”

His “I AM” is more than enough for our “I needs.”

And, so, in case there was any doubt that Jesus could have victory over our circumstances, He raises Lazarus from the dead. I’m not saying there won’t be doubts, discouragements, and despair in this life. What I am saying is that you don’t need to die there because the Resurrection and the Life has come to defeat what was meant to kill and destroy you. Today, we have no grounds for our doubt, discouragement, and despair because there is no statute of limitations on when God can bring life to us.

I believe today that whatever you are walking through, EVEN NOW, there is hope. Yes, there is future hope. Yes, He is preparing a place for you. Yes, He will come again. But, EVEN NOW, there is hope for what I’m going through today. My doubt cannot overpower Him. My discouragement cannot overpower Him. My despair cannot overpower Him. Death cannot overpower Him. He is God EVEN NOW.

And, so, EVEN NOW, you have the chance to respond to Him. I don’t know what you’re walking through today. I don’t know what sort of doubts you carry with you. I don’t know what’s making you question, “Can God really do that?” But, I do know that EVEN NOW, because He is the resurrection and life, you can have victory over doubt instead of being defeated by it. I don’t know what sort of discouragement is laying heavily upon your heart in this moment. I don’t know what has made you apprehensive to approach the altar because you’ve been there and you’ve prayed and prayed and prayed but felt like God wasn’t moving. So, today, you’re discouraged by His delay. But, I do know that EVEN NOW, because He is the resurrection and life, you can have victory over discouragement instead of being defeated by it. I don’t know what has choked out your hope. I don’t know what has happened to cause you to believe that you just need to eke your way through life—that you just need to survive all of this rather than thrive in what God has for you. But, I do know that EVEN NOW, because He is the resurrection and life, you can have victory over despair instead of being defeated by it.

This morning, as we prepare to open up these altars, if you are feeling defeated by your doubts, discouragements, and despair, it’s time to lay them down. He’s calling you forth from the grave. In the same way that He commanded Lazarus to come out of the grave, He’s calling us out of our doubts, discouragements, and despair. And, He doesn’t want to replace those things with just SOMETHING else. He wants to show you more of Himself and give you more of Himself and fill you with more of Himself.

You might feel like it’s too late. It’s not. The prophet Joel recorded the words of God as this,

[Joel 2:12] “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning, [13] and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful and slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.

EVEN NOW, if we would repent of seeking solutions and answers other than Him and return to Him, He is faithful to forgive. If you’re wondering, “What can God do now?,” the answer is that all things are possible with an EVEN NOW God. So, friends, it’s time. It’s time for us to respond. Would you respond EVEN NOW by coming to these altars and seeking the only solution that we have in this life—Jesus Christ. Would you come?

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