Pastor Rick Warren delivered an Easter sermon to the Saddleback church on "Easter Means It's A New Day Of Mercy."
At the southern California campus of Saddleback church, Warren underlined that God sent Jesus to show mercy to everyone, and how that relates directly to our lives through three examples interwoven in the sermon. Warren, the author of best-selling book "The Purpose-Driven Life," held 57 Saddleback Easter services at 16 campuses in US and foreign countries including in Germany, China, Argentina, and Philippines.
In his Saturday service, Warren set the theme of the sermon by quoting from the verse, "A new day will dawn on us because our God is loving and merciful." He told the crowd to lay emphasis on the word "merciful," because he said "most people don't understand how merciful God IS... that is why they avoid God, are afraid of God, and are distant from God."
Warren said that he will tell us of three areas where God shows us mercy: "When we are ashamed, when we are angry, when we are afraid."
He exemplified God's mercy in these areas through three instances in the Bible, and he said this is how God wants to show us mercy in our own lives too.
To begin with, he told the story of the "humiliated woman" from John 8:2-6, who is caught in adultery. The Pharisees wanted to stone her, but Jesus told them that the one who had no sin must be the one to stone her first. Warren explained that Jesus protected the dignity of woman in public, but then dealt with her one-to-one. The pastor went on to say that if people claim to be followers of Christ, then they must treat everybody with dignity.
Warren said that just like the way Jesus responded to the sinful woman, "he [Jesus] does not condemn you, he does not condone you, he changes you... God's mercy forgives me [from my past] and frees me [to do better next time]."
Then he touched on the topic of anger, and where it comes from. He said, all the anger "either comes from fear or frustration... the more needs go unmet in your life, the more angry a person you become." So, Warren put it down to this, "Anger: I need God's mercy when I don't have what I need." He continued, "we are finite, weak, broken people with weaknesses. We all have things we lack in life..." The Pastor said, "God did that intentionally so that we all need each other, and we all need Him... You all have disabilities. You all cannot think in certain ways other people can think... You have got emotional disabilities that keep coming over and over in your relationships."
Warren said, we don't have it all in us, because God wants us to be dependent. "In America, independence is the highest quality" one seeks, but he noted that, "God wants us to be dependent on him... When your children depend on you, you are happy because it shows their confidence in you. They believe in you."
He then told the story of the disabled man from John 5:2-5. Warren mentioned that the spiritual meaning of the instance recorded in Bible is that "we are all disabled people," and then he says, "This guy is upset, he is disappointed, he is frustrated, he is lying by the stinking pool for 38 years. Why? Because he put his faith in something else besides God. And you are always going to be disappointed if you want something else or someone else to meet your need in your life that only God can meet."
"What is your secret and deepest disappointment?" he asked. "You would say, 'I am disappointed with my marriage; I am disappointed with myself.. at this time I should have been so far down the road; I am disappointed with a child; I am disappointed with my career.'"
"How does Jesus responds to our disappointment? He responds with mercy," Warren said.
Jesus asks that man, "Do you want to get well?" Now, Pastor Warren says, "Well, this is an obvious question. Why won't he want to get well?.. But he asked this question because a lot of people don't want to get well. Getting well means you have to change and change is scary. And health means I have to take on responsibilities. I can't just blame other people, I can't just lay around. Health means I have got new things that are scary in my life. A lot of people don't want to get well. Do you want to get healthy in your relationships? Do you want to get healthy with God? Do you want to get healthy in your life? Do you want to get well?.. I have counseled numerous people on divorce, death, relationships, you name it, in very miserable condition.. they don't want to change... If you change yourself, that will change the equation of your relationship. But people blame, rationalize, without wanting to change... So Jesus asked him the straight-forward question, 'Do you want to change?' And he doesn't give him a straight-forward answer."
Here is what the person says, Warren noted, "'Sir,' the invalid replied, 'I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred [Jesus did not ask him that question]. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me [Jesus did not ask him that question]."
"See, here his anger comes out. He is blaming other people," Warren pointed out.
"What was Jesus' response? Mercy... I know that many godly people live with chronic pain.. But I do know this, when I ask for God's help, God's mercy makes the impossible possible. He can do things I cannot do. He has power I don't have. He has resources I have never even thought of." Then he read from Luke 18:27 "What is impossible with men is possible for God."
But, Warren said many people might question, "Why doesn't God take away all my problems?" Because, he answered, "God is more interested in our character, than in our comfort. Comfort is in heaven. Right now, this is a school. God wants you to grow up, and some things you only learn through tough times, like persistence, determination, diligence, and patience. If you always got your way, you will never learn patience ... What is impossible with men is possible with God."
Lastly, he came to problem of secret fears.
"There is one fear that is common to men and women both, and that is the fear of death," so he laid out the third area where we need God's mercy. "Afraid: I need God's mercy when facing death."
The pastor said, "Last time I checked, mortality rate was 100%. Everybody dies. And if you don't have faith, it is going to be fearful. I am not afraid to die. I have not been afraid of dying for decades. But, if you don't know God, and if you don't have made peace with God, and if you don't have mercy of God, you are going to be fearful about death. You probably don't even like to talk about it."
He took out the example of a dying man in Luke 23. It is the story of a thief dying on the cross with Jesus.
"One of the criminals being executed on a cross besides Jesus ridiculed Him, saying if you are supposed to be the Messiah, why don't you save yourself...and us too! [Luke 23:39-41]"
He explained, "Jesus did not came to save himself, he came to save us. He is going to hang there in pain for my sins and your sins. He didn't come to save himself. Certainly Jesus could have taken Himself off the cross. He created the world, He created the universe. But it was not nails that held him to the cross, it was love. Love for you."
Warren continued with the Bible verse, "...But the second criminal rebuked him, 'Man, don't you even fear God when you are dying? We deserve to die for our evil deeds but this man hasn't done anything wrong!'"
Pastor said that most people who reject God think that there is nothing after death, but that "there is life after death. Jesus proved it. I am betting on what he said."
Warren read the rest of the verse, "Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'"
Only mercy is need to get to heaven, and only pride keeps us away from heaven, Warren explained. "Because it is not about what you say, but about humility... Your pride will keep you away from heaven, your unwillingness to accept the mercy of God. Because that is the only way you are going to get there... The man did not ask Jesus to keep him from dying, which He could. He did not ask Him to relieve him of his pain, which He could. He realized his greatest need was forgiveness from his sins."
In his closing notes, he said, "When I come to God humbly, God's mercy will save me for eternity. This is what Jesus promised, 'I guarantee you that today you will be with me in paradise.'"
The Pastor explained the meaning of the last portion of the verse, "Jesus replied, 'I assure you, today you will [it's certain] be with me [it's a relationship] in paradise [that is a place forever].'"
"Let me wrap it up, 'You are made by God to last forever and he wants you to be in his forever-family, but you have to ask,'" he said, and recited this verse from Acts 2:21, "Anyone who asks for mercy from the Lord shall have it and shall be saved."