There is a version of Amazing Grace called Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone.) The first verse says “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now I'm found was blind, but now I see.” The chorus says, “My chains are gone, I've been set free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me and like a flood, His mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace.” These chains refer to captivity. The Jewish Passover starts this evening and Easter is coming up next week. “Passover commemorates the emancipation (freedom) of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. and they were to Deuteronomy 16:1 “Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you out of Egypt by night. Easter commemorates our salvation. Luke 2:28 “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” The Jews did not and still do not believe Jesus was / is the Messiah and continue to celebrate Passover year after year. Paul tells us 2 Corinthians 13:14 “their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” By the way that doesn’t mean if you read the Old Testament you have a veil over your eyes. It means if you don’t believe there is a New Testament, you have a veil. Christians also celebrate Easter year after year but what happens when Christians like the Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. This belief occurs when you do not believe His words so how can He be your Messiah. Easter then becomes a tradition / ritual like Passover even though Revelation 1:5 “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen,” By not adhering to His words you are rejecting Jesus. The church has turned away from God’s words just like the Jews have.
                Passover occurs year after year and has its traditions / rituals such as the Seder meal. Easter has also transformed into a tradition / ritual. Easter is usually the big event in the church but Easter is a little strange as chocolate, eggs and bunnies have become predominate in our culture. You say Easter and most think chocolate or the Easter bunny. I guess when you give up chocolate for Lent; you will have an insatiable appetite for chocolate at Easter when the season of Lent is over. Easter is far more than chocolate as both Passover and Easter are supposed to represent our freedom from captivity. At the start of Jesus ministry He said, Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The church was supposed to be freed from captivity starting there.
                The problem we face today is that we celebrate a powerless ritual just like the Jews who celebrate Passover. Mark 7:6 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” God says Amos 5:21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. 23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” This is very similar to Isaiah 1:12 “When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. 14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!” That’s not the blood we are to be celebrating but that is what has happened as the church turned away. It was supposed to be Colossians 1:15 “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” The church did not continue and worships in vain and like the Passover, Easter has simply become something that takes place every year. Truthfully the church is not an event but as Christians our daily life is about Christmas, Easter and Pentecost all in one, yet Pentecost is something that is hardly emphasized at all. Jesus came to set us free, He died that we might have life and we were empowered to do as He did.
                Instead the church is in captivity and void of power due to our disobedience. Here we see what happens when we disobey. Joshua 7:1 “But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.” They disobeyed what God had ordered them not to do.” Their enemies then defeated them. Joshua 7:6 “Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” God’s answer to Joshua was, 10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” God said stand up to Joshua as if he should have known that only sin would allow them to be defeated. God had told Joshua, Joshua 1:3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.  5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Yet now they were defeated by their enemies because some of them disobeyed God’s orders. When they took Jericho they were told, Joshua 6:16 “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city! 17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. 18 But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it.” How many in today’s church have ignored the words of God to go their own ways?
                Today the church has been defeated by their enemies because the church has also disobeyed the word of the Lord. Here we see why the church lies desolate. 2 Kings 22:13 “Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.” This passage describes the continue sin of the church. 2 Kings 17:34 “To this day they persist in their former practices. They neither worship the Lord nor adhere to the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands that the Lord gave the descendants of Jacob, whom he named Israel. 35 When the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, he commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. 36 But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship. To him you shall bow down and to him offer sacrifices. 37 You must always be careful to keep the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands he wrote for you. Do not worship other gods. 38 Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. 39 Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.” 40 They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. 41 Even while these people were worshiping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did.” By following other gospels / gods, the church continues to sin. We saw what happened with both Israel and Judah sinned; they went into captivity if they even survived.
                Not only have those who have gone before us disobeyed, the church continues to disobey. Year after year Easter is celebrated to remember the greatest event ever to take place. Peter said, Acts 10:36 “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. 39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Notice that when Luke 22:8 “Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover,” He said, Luke 22:15 “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God. 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” This verse confirms the kingdom is supposed to be here as Jesus did eat and drink after He rose from the dead. Jesus also said Luke 11:20 “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Clearly the kingdom was to be upon us and come near in power as the gospel was proclaimed to the world.
                Easter is not supposed to be a yearly spectacle. During a service you might sing Amazing Grace (My Chains Fell Off), and celebrate what God has done for His people. You will sing those words “My chains are gone, I've been set free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me and like a flood, His mercy reigns, unending love, amazing grace.” There will be great emotion and you sincerely believe that your chains are gone because you attend church and are singing this song. But what church are you attending and what are they teaching? Sure you have been told this is the truth but is it. Most people singing about their chains falling off are still in captivity. I am sure the song sounds great but where is the resurrection power? Where are all the wonders as Gideon said? Where are the signs that followed His word as Jesus said they would? Mark 16:20 “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” Where is the power from on High to do as Jesus did? Most won’t ask this question because it would mess up their belief system. Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:18 “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Jesus is the head of the church as Colossians told us, and He has offered us His authority and power to go do as He did.
                People in church are singing my chains fell off yet they are still captive. You may say that is what happened with Paul and Silas. Their chains fell off and they were still in prison. The difference is they knew they were in prison. They also saw the power of God at work. First of all Paul cast out a demon from a slave girl causing the owners to put them in jail. While in jail, Acts 16:25 “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” People in church are captive and powerless and you have to question the salvation of many. You have to ask what have they been saved into? When you look at Passover, there was great power, signs and wonders taking place all around them. Easter also had great power around it and that power was to continue. Not only did Jesus rise form the dead, Matthew 27:51 “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” The church thinks they are celebrating their freedom but instead they are celebrating their captivity and have no desire to make any changes. There is no desire to see the power of God among again.
                Do you really want to continue to worship in vain? Do you really want to come away from an Easter service thinking what a great service that was or do you want to see Pentecost power flow? Do you just really want to gather as a church or do you want to see the power of God move in this pandemic? Do you really want to accept this powerless church that we have as normal Christianity or do you want to see the power of God just as the power was supposed to be? Will you repent so that the kingdom will come near? When the power of Pentecost is among us, people will be set free from the power of satan. We were to continue to do as Paul did and Acts 26:18 “open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” 1 John 3:8 “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” You cannot continue that work in your own power.
                Jesus is the only way, truth and life but many like our example from yesterday are following the wrong shepherds. In this powerful chapter against false prophets, Jeremiah says, Jeremiah 23:1 “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. 5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. 7 “So then, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when people will no longer say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ 8 but they will say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ Then they will live in their own land.”
                Jesus was already here but the church decided they liked their own ways more the Jesus. Because of that disobedience the church just like Israel and Judah has been taken captive but there is hope that the church will be what it was supposed to be in the first place. We pray that God will turn His face back to us and the same power that rose Jesus from the dead will once again be in all who believe. That power is not a one-time event like or once a year event but a daily power that is with us as we go to the ends of the earth doing as Jesus did. Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Luke 9:1 “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Acts 8:6 “When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. 7 For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.” That will truly be cause to celebrate when the chains actually do come off and you will truly see! We then can say our chains are gone and we are an Easter believing church.