How Much More, Week 2 — The “Rocks & Hard Places” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Was PRECEDED by a marvelous Easter medley that included “King Of Kings,” “Raise A Hallelujah,” and “Because He Lives,” among others.
  • Was FOLLOWED by a high voltage version of “Ain’t No Grave.”  The musical wrap-around was so good I have included a YouTube link of the service in its entirety below.
  • Was delivered with band-aids on both hands, the result of paper cuts.  I would have gone to the ER to have them dealt with, but with the hospitals full with Coronavirus, I thought it better to tough it out at home. I was amazed at the number of people who messaged me: “what’s the deal with the band aids?”
  • Was based on an unusual Easter text — Romans 5:8-17, where Paul uses a FOURPLICATE of “how much more” in talking about crucifixion, resurrection, biblical Adam, and exalted Christ;
  • Relied on “digital audience participation” when it came time to read the Scripture … I invited people to fill in the HOW MUCH MORE, out loud, in their homes.
  • Involved a highly complicated experiment that proved the existence of gravity.
  • Landed at this bottom line inspired by Jonathon Holmesly, pastor of nearby Lake Wylie Baptist Church: He went into the grave to bring you out of it.


In January of this year, my wife Julie and I spent a week in Prague, CR, where we visited our son Riley & his wife Natalie (AV) who are on a mission working with college students there. Not that I’m proud or anything. Anyway, one day Riley suggested we go on a hike. “It’s supposed to be really pretty and then at the end of the trail the ruins are kind of like Stonehenge,” he said. Done. Good. We’re off.

And … how to say this delicately? … this weren’t no hike and there weren’t no “trail.” This was an ODYSSEY, an EPIC, a never ending adventure. And instead of a lovely trail, there were roads, mud, villages, Czechs, more walking until finally – about SIX MILES IN – we come upon a meadow where nothing was blocking the wind and so my hair was getting messed up & that’s when Riley says “only six more kilometers!” I answered, “Kilometers!  Who taught you to talk like that?  Are you so European now you’re talking kilometers?!”

In REAL measurements, that’s four miles! We’ve already gone six! I’m like “I don’t care if there is a pot of gold at the end of this hike, much less Stonehenge, I’m done. Next village we’re Ubering home.” 2/3 of the way in, no way out, stuck. And did I mention it was EUROPE-IN-JANUARY COLD? Don’t you just hate it when you’re IN something – ANYTHING – and there seems to be no reason you’re there, much less any way out. You?

You probably have something you’re stuck in that’s EVEN worse than a endless & endlessly frozen walk in the European countryside. For some of you, it’s that job. You left one you LIKED to take one that sounded better but it over-promised and under-delivered. Or maybe it’s not the wrong job – it’s that you hired the wrong person! And now you don’t know what to do with them! Others, you’re in the wrong relationship & breaking up seems in some ways more difficult than staying together. Rock, meet hard place, And some of you women know all too vividly what it’s like to go out with the wrong guy and the precarious, threatening position he put you in. Others here might find yourselves in the wrong city, the wrong neighborhood, the wrong extended family. And then I know a good # of you find yourselves in a funk, in a fog, in despair with no real explanation. Life is meh. Like the friend who called me out of the blue: it got so bad & for no reason dr. wrote me out of work. And for some of you, this thing you’re IN feels almost like a death, almost like what you’ve stepped in is a grave.

All that may seem like an odd place to start an Easter message with, but stay with me here. Because I don’t know if you’ve thought about it this way or not but WHY did Jesus find himself in that grave? Talk about a rock and a hard place! And WHAT did he spend his time doing while there? Decomposing? Apparently not. Preaching? Maybe so. We don’t know with any kind of assurance but we DO know that Paul shines some fascinating and much overlooked light on the entire dilemma. And he does so in a way that for me, when I got it, made me realize that for WAY TOO LONG I’d been satisfied with the trailer without ever watching the MOVIE; I’d been content with the appetizer without ever eating the MAIN COURSE; I’d settled for the prelims without appreciating the MAIN EVENT. And all that revolves around the phrase HOW MUCH MORE that we’ve been diving into these weeks, and in Romans 5 Paul gives us a FOURPLICATE of it. QUADRIPLACTE, if you will.

Check it out in Romans 5, where after this beautiful anthem in 5:8 that although we are unworthy God is unwavering –

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

– Paul goes here in 5:9:

Since we have now been justified by his blood, HOW MUCH MORE shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

OK … justified is a fancy word meaning “made right” or “put in good standing” or “we good? Yeah, we good” and that happens between us and God not by our effort but by Jesus’ blood. Dramatic stuff. But that’s NOTHING compared to the saving, protecting, preserving power that will protect us from his wrath at the end of time. And yes, we speak of God’s love and his wrath, even on Easter, they’re not in competition, they’re perfectly complementary. The cross is the trailer; the loving protection in the midst of Second Coming mayhem is the movie!

Then there’s 5:10:

10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, HOW MUCH MORE, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

Oooops he says it AGAIN! This time the implication is that however great is the fix for the errors of sin (that’s what RECONCILE is, like when you RECONCILE your bank statement or even RECONCILE a friendship; you fix what’s broken) it is greater still, better still that his LIFE, his resurrected live, moving and breathing among us right now will save us from us.

But Paul’s not done yet! Check 5:15:

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, HOW MUCH MORE did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

Ahhh. So the rebellion of the first man led to death for all men and yet HMM does the obedience of the perfect man lead to life and victory over all the obstacles that come. Then 5:17:

17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, HOW MUCH MORE will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

The fourplicate is complete! Death reigned because of the first man and now because of the GodMan we reign in life! Look at it! HMM, HMM, HMM, HMM. Writing was both costly and painful in ancient times – Paul is hardly word processing this! – and so this pattern is screaming out: NOTICE ME! HERE I AM! NOTICE THE HMM! Over and over again: the cost of sin is heavy, the price to pay it off is great but the sweetness of victory over it is so much more! So much greater! Crucifixion is beautiful but resurrection is absolutely glorious. It’s an Easter quadruplicate embedded in Romans 5.

And all of a sudden it is clear why Jesus went into that grave. Why he was “stuck” in it … and it has everything to do with what we’re stuck in. It’s the best news: He went into the grave to bring you out of it. Yes! He entered into the mire and the mess and the mud to find you and grab you and haul you right out of it! You may have an uncanny ability to get stuck, to fall in it, in fact it IS the story of your life, but HMM is his ability to bring you out. This is the gorgeous testimony of every recovering addict I know – addiction was so ugly but that ugliness simply makes the beauty of God-given serenity that much brighter. HMM!

He went into the grave to bring you out of it.

In the Italian Alps there is a “stations of the cross” shrine. And the path leading to the cross is well worn and well maintained. And the shrine is lovely. Most people think that’s the end of the excursion (unlike our Prague hike, which was endless). But one hiker noticed that here was a small path looping behind it, so he followed it. There, at the end of a seldom used and unkempt trail, he found a shrine of the empty tomb. Oh, that says so much! Far too many of us stop at the cross WHICH IS GREAT but we don’t savor the empty tomb WHICH PAUL TELLS US FOUR TIMES IS GREATER! And I’ve never been able to figure this out artistically, but isn’t it kind of a shame that the symbol of the church EVERYWHERE is the cross? I love the crosses we have here. You wear them around your neck. But HMM would it be if we could have a representation of an empty tomb!  It’s why I think our How Much More series graphic is so great … it’s evocative of the empty tomb. The pain of the cross will never overshadow the sweetness of the tomb. Because it’s your muck and your mire that Jesus entered to rescue you from.

He went into the grave to bring you out of it.

Because – and you know this – something is proved scientifically if you can repeat the same experiment over and over and over. It’s how we know gravity works (demo it!). See! I repeated the same HIGHLY COMPLICATED experiment over and over and over. Think about the resurrection. Seen by Mary Magdalene. Experiment one. By Peter, James, John: Experiment two. By the followers on the road to Emmaus: experiment three. By the upper room crowd: experiment four. By 500 people, Paul tells us: experiment five. Over and over and over – mostly by people who for the most part died because they refused to recant. No one dies for a lie! These folks died by the dozens for the truth!

And, and, if the resurrection is true – and it is – then Jesus can’t be “moderately important.” He can’t be “sort of” significant. He either means NOTHING (literally) or he means EVERYTHING. I know which one I’m choosing! Because his tomb is vacant, I know which one I’m choosing! Because I know the graves he’s brought ME out of.

He went into the grave to bring you out of it.

Because you’ve got graves. You might have even brought yours here with you today.

You the one in the wrong job? Guess what? He went into the grave to bring you out of it.

You the one who feels like you have the wrong mate? Maybe realizing you ARE the wrong mate? Guess what? He went into the grave to bring you out of it.

You the one on that self-destructive path, literally awash in your own blood from self-harm? Guess what? He went into the grave to bring you out of it.

Or are you the one on that downward spiral of drinking away every meaningful relationship and meaningful connection you ever had? Guess what? He went into the grave to bring you out of it.

Or … most insidious of all … are you in the “meh” of settling when you could be soaring? You’ve assumed depression and lethargy and surviving is your lot when thriving is your call? Guess what? REFRAIN. Stop trying to get yourself out and hitch yourself to his grave-busting, gravity-beating power. He went into the grave to bring you out of it.

So remember our Czech hike-turned-epic? Fevered, blistered, messy haired thing I thought I was stuck in and could only Uber out of? Well, we rested a bit, had a lunch of pork chops & fries, got a SECOND WIND and almost skipped the last few KILOMETERS to the ruins. Which, when we got there, if not quite Stonehenge were pretty impressive. It’s not every day you see something built in the 1100s still standing, after all. I’m just glad that when I was IN IT, God brought me through it and beyond it.  If he can do that with me on a hike, HOW MUCH MORE can he do with you?

He went into the grave to bring you out of it.

Here’s what it looked and sounded like: