Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Sermon: Roll Away Your Stone - Matthew 28:1-10

Stones aren’t a common experience here in Florida. Sure you can find some here and
there but for the most part we all know that we live on a giant sandbar.  Israel on the other
hand, the place where Jesus was born, lived, died and was resurrected is a place where stones
were and are a common experience.  People like Goliath are getting hit upside the head with
stones all over the place in the bible, because stones were so plentiful in Israel.  The word stone
is referenced in the bible hundreds of times in many different ways.  Sometimes it talks about
false  gods  of  wood  and stone, there  are the two stone tablets, sacred stones, stones  of
remembrance (Ebenezer), ruins of stones, Jesus himself is  called a living stone, a stumbling
stone, a precious stone, and a cornerstone.   Often stones are referenced and were used as
boundaries.  They were used as visible markers to mark the edges of property and these large
dense objects were used to block or cover spaces like wells, like a den of lions in the book of
Daniel, or like tombs as in the tomb of Lazarus, or as we just heard the tomb of Jesus.

The title of the message today is “Roll Away Your Stone” and probably that has a lot to
do with the fact that I can’t, for the life of me, get this Mumford and Sons song out of my head
(some of you may have heard it playing before the service).  The first verse says:

“Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine.  Together we will see what we will find.
Don’t  leave me  alone  at this time.    Cause  I’m  afraid  of what  I will  discover

In this case those talented musicians are using this biblical imagery of a stone sealing off
a tomb but rather than a literal tomb, I think what they’re singing about is the heart; about
rolling away the stone, these dense protective shields that we have over hearts, and really
looking inside.  For many of us we have these stones over are hearts for good reason.  We’ve
been  through  destructive  relationships,  we’ve  had  our  hearts  crushed  too  many  times,
sometimes this world is just too much to bear without some sort of thick skin, without some
sort of stone rolled over the chambers of our hearts.  Sometimes these barriers we put up are
to protect us from others, and sometimes it’s because we’re afraid ourselves of what we will
discover inside.  Yet we all inherently know that if we are to have a deep, meaningful, intimate
relationship with anyone that you have to roll away your stone, you have to make those deep 2
parts of yourself available and brought into the light.  This is true about a relationship with God
as well.

  The bible in Deuteronomy 4:29 says very clearly “you will find him if you search after
him with all your heart and with all your soul.” God himself says in Jeremiah 29:13 “You will
seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

So the question, no matter where you are in your relationship with God, that all of us
have to ask ourselves is what are the stones over our own hearts that need to be rolled away?
What are the areas of our lives that we’ve got so well hidden from others, God, even ourselves
in self‐delusion that we are afraid to roll back and open up to God?  What areas are we afraid to
let go of, to roll the stone away so that just as the sun breaks through the morning darkness
into the tomb, God’s light and new life to break into our lives?

  Of course this is different for every individual, those particular areas where we don’t
want God involved and for every area there’s a heart reason behind it.  For most of us its being
controlled by something that we run to for comfort, for happiness, for meaning in life, for our
identities and over and over again.  Whatever it is, it fails us, but it works better than anything
else we’ve found and we’re too afraid to roll that stone away, to examine that part of our life
and the part of our heart that leads us there and open it up to God to transform, to resurrect
and to make new.  If we’re honest there’s this disconnect between the relationship with God
we say we desire and the actual humility required to submit all these areas to Him, and we all,
every last one of us, have these places in our lives that we keep stoned off and reserved for

Let me give you a simple example.  We all know that eating greasy, fattening, unhealthy
food on a regular basis can literally lead to death.  When you’re younger you don’t notice it as
much, but as you get older there are signs more and more and your body begins to let you
know this stuff is killing you.   When I was in my early 20s I would eat lunch with this guy I
worked with and he would literally begin sweating and have trouble breathing the moment he
started to eat as though it were an athletic competition.  I thought, wow that’s crazy, why does
he continue to eat that way, and here I am years later not far from being that guy myself.  We
don’t notice at first, these things we run to hoping for comfort and life, that ultimately lead us
more and more towards destruction.   And we also are reluctant, even once we realize it, to
surrender these things.  I don’t want to give up my double cheeseburger, my extra large coke
and super salty fries.   In fact I get rather upset when I receive unsalted French fries from a
restaurant pretending to be healthy.  Why don’t I learn?  Because it’s delicious!  In the moment
it appears so beautiful, it tastes so nourishing, and I feel so full and yet more and more each 3
year I know this is not what will give me real sustaining life.  God speaks to me himself in soft
whispers, through other people, through the physical consequences and yet I harden my heart
and refuse to listen, I don’t roll that particular stone away but rather keep it firmly in place as
though this one thing is mine.  I certainly don’t plunge into the recesses of my heart to examine
the deeper roots for why I keep on believing this will satisfy me.  I even pretend to honor God
while engaging in this destructive behavior as I pray over my food.  “Dear God, please make this
food nourishing to my body.”  Really what I’m saying is “Lord please preform a miracle, as this
food travels down my esophagus, transform  its molecular structure from a hamburger  into
steamed broccoli, from  French fries  into fresh fruit, from soda  into  crystal  clear water that
when it hits my stomach I might be nourished by it.  Lord do this so that I don’t have to turn this
area of my life over to your guidance and to your wisdom or examine why I seek this above all

  Now, it’s not as if God has condemned fast food restaurants or is scowling down from
up above whenever we eat unhealthily.   It’s when food becomes the center of our life, the
source of our comfort.  It’s when the first thing we think of when we wake up is when can I eat
or at the end of a terrible day it’s the first thing we run to.  Of course we do this with so much
more than just food though it’s a good metaphor.  We do it with anything, even good things
that we run to and ask to fill our hearts with what only God can provide, with anything that we
keep stones over so that we don’t have to think about or examine.  We do this with our bodies,
with our relationships, with our desires.  Whatever it is, it sounds like this “I will give something
up in order to have it.  I will sacrifice to get it.  I will compromise, I will beg, borrow, or steal to
possess it.  It is the chief pursuit of my life.” We say “I am restless until it is mine rather than
saying my heart is restless until it finds its rest in you oh God.”

It’s ok to be afraid. It’s ok to not really want to roll away any of these stones and take a
real look at what’s inside.  In fact, if there’s no fear, then you haven’t dug deep enough.  When
the women approached the tomb of Jesus and saw that the stone had been rolled away they
were afraid, but the first hint of resurrection, of new life, is the rolled‐away stone.   It’s the
invitation to come inside and see.

 The good news for us is that while we may be called to roll away our own stones in
order to experience resurrection, we don’t actually have to do the heavy lifting ourselves.  God
does that because He rolled away THE stone over 2000 years ago so that today we can proclaim
He is Risen!  When we are finally ready to roll our stone away, to believe in the resurrection
power of our God and follow with all of our hearts, in every area of our lives, where God                
wishes to lead us, we will find — like the women at the tomb — that God has already rolled
back the stone for us.  The women arrived at the tomb that morning to find that even in the
midst of, and even in spite of their doubt and fear, God had already been at work.  The good
news is that in spite of our frailty, our weakness, our fear, our sinfulness, and in spite of our
inability to roll away the stone on our own, resurrection happens.  We don’t have to make it
happen, will it to happen, or force it to happen.  God does that.  And then, when we are ready,
we can look beyond the stone that God has already rolled back for us, and see what new life
waits for us there beyond it and he does it in us as we die to our old selves and are raised to a
new life, to a new identity in Christ. (adapted from this sermon)

This is the gospel, the good news, that Jesus Christ is risen, He is risen.   The trail has
been blazed not by our own efforts but by resting in him.   We are, through the Son of God,
adopted into the family as sons and daughters of God with new identities and from this new
status, this new identity flows into everything that we are and everything that we do.

Let me tell you a story: “It was a little girl’s first day with her adoptive parents.   She
stalked  nervously  around  her  new  home,  fearing  one  of  the  beatings she  used  to  get  if
something was broken.   The toys in her room went untouched.   She could not quite believe
they were hers.   At dinner she secretly stuffed food in her pocket, because you never knew
where your next meal would come from when you were on the streets.  That night she felt so
alone  in her big room.    She would have  cried  if she had not  long since  learnt to suppress
emotion.  Now listen to her new mother one year later:  “She crawled into bed with me last
night, because she was having a bad dream.  She curled up next to me, put her head on my
chest, told me that she loved me, smiled, and went to sleep.  I nearly cried with contentment.”
This little girl had a new identity on day one.  She had become a child in a new family.  But she
still lived like a child of the street.  Her actions and attitudes were shaped by her old identity.
Christians too have been adopted into a new family and given a new identity.  We are to live
out our new identity—to be who we are.  To live not like a slave to stone covered areas of our
lives but, like a child of the King of heaven.  Our identity as God's children is the foundation of
who we are now because of Jesus.  And as God's children, we bear his name everywhere we go.
We are his family, his church.  Church, by the way, is not a place or an event.  It's who we are…
The reason we should want to change, to roll our stones away, is to enjoy the freedom from sin
that God gives to us through Jesus, and to delight  in God.”

We roll away our stones not because we are afraid that God will strike us down or that we won’t be good enough so that at  the end of these lives we can say I was pretty good.  We roll away our stones and give every area of our lives over to God because it’s joy.  It’sin gratefulresponse to seeing that God rolled
away our stone for us, it’s because as we live out this new identity we find it’s who we are, it’s
who we were meant to be. The apostle Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 15:10 “But by the grace of
God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of
them‐‐ yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.”

  “The gospel, as Tim Keller is prone to say, is not the ABC’s of Christianity, it’s A to Z.  It’s
not just the elementary and introductory truths.  The gospel, and our new gospel identity, is
what drives everything that we do.“ Over the next four weeks, I hope that you will join us at
one of our services on Sunday morning or on Monday night as we explore more about this new
identity, our gospel ID and what that means in our selves, with our time, our family and our
work as we seek to live into these new identities together.

As we finish our time, let me tell you about one more stone in the bible.   In ancient
Rome there was a custom to give a white stone to the winners of the athletic competitions that
they would have.   Those who achieved victory would receive a white stone with their name
inscribed upon it and later at the special banquet for all the winners, the stone would be their
ticket to join the feast.  The resurrected Christ says in Revelation 2:17 “To him who overcomes…
I will give him a white stone with a new name written on it.”  We have victory because “He gives
us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”, 1 Corinthians 15:57.  We overcome because Jesus
has “overcome the world”, John 16:33.  We roll away the stone because He has rolled the stone
away and we have a new identity in Christ because he gives us a new name in Him.  As you go
forward from here today, pick up a white stone on your way out.  Notice if it’s smooth or rough.
Turn it over in your hand, feel the weight of it.  And as you do, think about the stones that need
to be rolled  away  in  your  life.    Think  about the places where God might be  calling  you to
something new.  Think about the weight God may be trying to lift from your shoulders.  Think of
the victory we have in Him, and the new name, the new identity we receive in Him because our
redeemer lives.

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