Sunday, April 08, 2007

“The Easter Joke”

Sometimes you can learn a deep lesson about life from the weirdest places – when you’re not even expecting it!

Today I’m going to start by telling you a story of a lesson about God that I learned from someone I never expected to learn from: a bag lady!


This all started one day back when I was a youth pastor in Burlingame – about 5 years ago. For about 2-3 weeks, I had been going out by Coyote Point and spending time with God before I’d go to work.

I parked out by the bay and would read my Bible and talk to God. This day I was sitting in my car reading my Bible and talking to God when I noticed a little older lady walking my way. She was dressed in old looking pants and a shirt and she had a baseball cap on. She also had an old plastic white grocery bag with something in it.

I watched her walk past my car and right up to the garbage can I was parked near. She reached into the garbage can and dug around in it for a minute. Then she pulled something out. It was a plastic bottle. She put it on the ground and stomped on it and put it in her bag.

She dug around some more and pulled another bottle out and did the same thing. Finally she couldn’t find anymore bottles in the there, so she left – off to find more bottles!

I was about to go back to reading my Bible and just forget the whole thing, when all of a sudden, a thought hit me!

What I’m about to talk to you about today will help you see God and yourself in a new way. It helped me!

I’ll tell you what I learned from about God from this lady in a second, but first…

I want to tell you one more story that’s an example of what I learned. It’s a story from the Bible in Luke 19:1-10.

1 Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was one of the most influential Jews in the Roman tax-collecting business, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowds. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree beside the road, so he could watch from there. 5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. "Zacchaeus!" he said. "Quick, come down! For I must be a guest in your home today." 6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the crowds were displeased. "He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner," they grumbled. 8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!" 9 Jesus responded, "Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham. 10 And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those like him who are lost."

Alright, I’ve kept you waiting long enough!

I’m going to tell you the lesson I learned about God and myself from that bag lady, and I’ll show you how this story of Zacchaeus is an example of what I learned.

When I saw that lady digging through the trash that day I didn’t think anything of it – at first.

But then I suddenly realized that what I saw her doing was an example of what God has done throughout history: God is constantly digging through the trash of the world and looking for something that still has value!

God is always digging around looking for people that the world has thrown away. These are people that everyone else might think are worthless, but God sees them as worth something!

That’s what God did with me and that’s what he did with all of you who have asked Jesus into your lives already. It’s what God wants to do for some of you that haven’t asked him into your lives yet!

Look at the Zacchaeus story again…

Zacchaeus is the chief tax collector. People back then, like now, hated tax collectors. Tax collectors ripped people off and treated people badly. That’s why they were considered “low lifes” by the people back then.

Zacchaeus was probably rich because of all the extra money he took from people. No one – except other tax collectors – probably liked Zacchaeus!

But what does Jesus do?

He looks at him up in the tree and he sees someone worth something! He reaches into the trash of Zacchaeus’ life and pulls him out! He reaches out to this man that everyone else had thrown away and decided was worthless.

And he does something to show Zacchaeus and everyone there that he saw worth in him. It was shocking to the people back then. What did he do?

He calls Zacchaeus down and says he wants to go to his house. This was a big deal, cause back then, going to someone’s house meant that you accepted them.

Everyone knew what Jesus was saying when he said that. That’s why they got upset and started complaining about it. And Zacchaeus definitely knew what Jesus was saying about him. It meant so much to him that it changed him - right then – forever!

Look at what Zacchaeus says in verse 8

8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have overcharged people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!" 9 Jesus responded, "Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a son of Abraham. 10 And I, the Son of Man, have come to seek and save those like him who are lost."

Jesus is still looking for people to redeem! I asked Brett to share his story of how God redeemed him. Have Brett share his story.

Talk about the word “redemption” and what it means.

Ex. Plastic bottle. Someone finds a plastic bottle and takes it to get money for it. The reason they can do this is because someone else sees value in it and knows they can take it and make something of value out of it again. If the bottle isn’t picked up and redeemed, then it ends up in a dump and just rots away.

That’s what God did for us through Jesus. Jesus redeemed us – paid to have us back – when he died on the cross. He did it so he could make us worth more than what we are.


An article in National Geographic a long time ago told a story I want you to hear…

After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Parl, forest rangers hiked up a mountain to see how much damage the fire had done.

One ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched like a statue on the ground at the base of a tree. The sight of the bird kind of sickened the ranger, so he knocked the bird over with a stick

As soon as he did that, three tiny chicks came scurrying out from under the dead mother’s wings!

The loving mother, realizing the impending danger had carried her babies to the base of the tree and gathered them under her wings. She instinctively knew that the toxic smoke would rise.

She could’ve flown to safety at any point, but she refused to abandon her babies. When the fire arrived and the heat singed her small body, the stayed – determined to save her chicks. Because she was willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.

Jesus was willing to pay the price to redeem us. John 3:16 tells it like this, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

His death paid the price for every sin we’ve committed and every sin we ever will commit. But that’s not all. Three days later he resurrected from the dead and defeated death. I like what I saw one author call it “The death of death.”

In Storytelling: Imagination and Faith, William J. Bausch shares this…

"In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the day after Easter was devoted to telling jokes. . . .They felt they were imitating the cosmic joke that God pulled on Satan in the Resurrection. Satan thought he had won, and was smug in his victory, smiling to himself, having the last word. So he thought. Then God raised Jesus from the dead, and life and salvation became the last words."

God’s biggest joke on the devil was that he took the death of his son and made it a victory for him and for the world.

God id the God of redemption! He redeems people. He can redeem situations. He can redeem your problems. He can take the worst junk – the thing you thought was dead in your life and redeem it – bring it back to life.

God can redeem the worst of things. Easter is the reminder us of this, because on that first Easter Sunday, God redeemed the worst result of sin – death!

In 1973, archeologists uncovered a cache of date palm seeds in ancient Masada, Israel. Scientists estimated that the seeds were produced about 70 AD. The Romans called it Phoenix dactylifera -- "the date-bearing phoenix" -- because it never died and appeared to be reborn in the desert where all other plant life perished.

The seeds were stored at
Israel's Bar-Ilan University where they remained for the next thirty years. In November 2004, Dr. Sarah Sallon approached the university and asked for some of the seeds.

"When we asked if we could try and grow some of them, they said, 'You're mad,' but they gave us three seeds," Sarah said.

Sarah's friend, biologist Dr. Elaine Solowey also didn't have much faith that the seeds would germinate, but Elaine carefully prepared the seeds for planting. First she soaked the seeds in hot water to make them once again able to absorb liquids. Then she soaked them in a solution of nutrients followed by an enzymatic fertilizer made from seaweed.

Tu B'shevat, a Jewish holiday known as the New Year for Trees, fell on
January 25, 2005. Elaine chose that day to plant the seeds in new potting soil, hook them up to a drip irrigation system, and then she left them locked up. Elaine occasionally checked on the plants for a few weeks, and in March 2005, she noticed a sprout. By November 2005, the sprout had turned into a sapling that was 3 feet high with nine leaves. Nicknamed Methuselah, the seeds is oldest seed to ever germinate.

God has the power to bring life to that which was dead. His greatest triumph is the resurrection of Christ.


God can take your problem, your pain, your shame and redeem it. All you have to do is give your life to him and submit to him.

Think of a plastic bottle again. Can you imagine a bottle resisting someone who wanted to redeem it? It’d be the worse choice it could make, because if it doesn’t get redeemed it has no future!

It’s the same with us!

Whether you feel worthless or not, whether the world looks at you as worthless or worth somethingonly God can ever make you into all that you could be!

*The joke of Easter is that God can take the worse situation and use it for good! Remember that when you think of the resurrection today.

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