What On Earth Am I Here For?

First in the The Purpose Driven Life series.
Delivered April 20, 2003 (Easter Sunday) by Rev. George Antonakos.

Sermon Text:
Luke 24:1-12

Would you turn with me to Luke, Chapter 24 verses 1-12,and let’s read this Easter text. Before we do, let’s just offer a word of prayer, shall we?

Lord, we begin this 40 Days of Purpose on the greatest day of the year, and we ask that your Holy Spirit would open our hearts and minds to understand the Scriptures, to understand your purpose for our lives. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men,be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”

We have come to this weekend to celebrate the defining moment of human history: the day our Lord Jesus defeated death and burst forth from the grave. But I want us to go back a couple of days from Easter morning and try to imagine the disciples feelings as they watched hope die on a cross. Life had not turned out like they thought. It’s not the ending that they had imagined. They are confused and fearful and perplexed. You know some of you who came this morning may feel a little bit like those disciples. Deep down there is a profound sense of confusion. Life is not turning out as you had hoped. In quiet moments you ponder the question: “What on earth am I here for?”

Last Monday my wife Ellen and I took our usual couple-mile walk, and on this particular day we decided to spend time praying, and always on the top of our prayer list usually is our son. His name is George. I call him G and he is a very likable, successful 27-year-old, and we dearly love him, but if you were to ask us our opinion, we think his spiritual compass is broken. When I think of the question: “What on earth am I here for?” I can see him asking it. Whenever I talk to him on the phone, I think this borders on harassment, but I am not sure. I say, “G, what are you doing this Sunday?” He says, “I don’t know.” “How about if you go to church this Sunday?” He goes, “Well, maybe, Dad. Maybe, I will.” I said, “G, Easter is coming up. You know you are not going to be home on Easter, are you?” One time a couple of weeks ago, we got a folder from the Promise Keepers, and it showed all the pictures of the people who are going to be speaking. One guy, a former San Diego Charger named Miles McPherson, is a pastor of a church out in San Diego. He meets at an 1800-member church at San Diego State University. His mother cuts out the picture and sends it to him and says, “Here, here is a former football player, he’s the pastor, go check him out.” “I don’t know, maybe, Mom.” And then the other day he was like, “Quit harassing me, you guys. It’s okay.” Last week, after the third service, after our Epic service, I saw Jeff and Debbie Pearson, and I learned that they are moving out to San Diego and so my ears perked up and I said, “Well, do you guys know where you are going to go to church yet?” And they said, “We think we are going to go to Salana Beach Presbyterian Church.” Well, next time on the phone I said, “G, do you know where Salana Beach Presbyterian Church is by any chance?” He said, “Oh, it’s probably about 20 minutes north of here. Beautiful area.” I said, “What a great place to go spend Easter. Why don’t you go?” He said, “Maybe Dad.” I imagine him there this morning. Actually, there it’s about 5:50 in the morning, but later this morning I imagine him being in that service, in the pew, but not fully into it. I wonder if he will go,and I hope that if he goes, his motive will be more than just a favor to his parents. I am hoping he can get this question answered: “What on earth am I here for?”

You know what else I wonder? I wonder if he is here today? Not him, of course, that would be nice if he was here today, but you know what I am saying? Somebody who can relate to my description of him. You’ve come because somebody nudged you. You’ve come because it makes Mom or Dad happy. A part of you may come because you really do hope there is an answer to the question: “What on earth am I here for?” But another part of you thinks there is no answer. You’re kind of de-churched. There is a certain homing pigeon quality at Easter that brings you back. Well, we are hoping and praying that this question that makes up the sermon title will be answered, will begin to be answered for you today.

As a church we set aside 40 days to answer that question for each and every one of us, and we can’t wait to see how God is going to change us. Now, if you will take out your outline notes, I will officially welcome you to 40 Days of Purpose. We have been planning this for such a long time and the journey begins today. Our Easter goal is to answer life’s three great questions:.

The question of existence – Why am I alive.
The question of significance – Does my life matter?
And third, The question of intention – What is my purpose in life?
The reality of the resurrection assures that there are solid answers to these questions.

So I am going to ask you to look at the first. Look at the first question on your notes: The question of existence. Why am I alive? It’s not a new question. In fact, Jeremiah answered this question over 2,000 years ago. Look at Jeremiah, 20:18 in your notes. “Why was I born? Was it only to have trouble and sorrow, to end my life in disgrace?” There have probably been times in your life when you have felt that way. Was I born just to have a bunch or problems? Was I put on this planet just to have heartache and grief and stress? Author Ashleigh Brilliant wrote “My life is a superb cast, but I can’t figure out the plot.” Jack Handley said, “I hope life isn’t a joke because I don’t get it.” If you haven’t already looked into The Purpose Driven Life book that is going to be the cornerstone of this 40 Days of Purpose, then you will read about Dr. Hugh Moorehead in the first day’s reading. Dr. Hugh Moorehead is a philosophy professor at Northeastern Illinois University and a while back he wrote to 250 of the best-known philosophers and intellectuals of the day. And he asked them a simple question:. “What is the meaning of life?” He then published their responses. Some offered guesses. Some admitted that they made up a purpose. Others wrote him back and said, “Dr. Moorehead, if you have an answer to this, would you please let us know?” And some made very pessimistic responses. Isaac Asimov said this, “As far as I can see, there is no purpose.” A life without purpose is not worth living, and it is no wonder that the suicide rate in our society has gone up even today.

Others struggle with this question of existence by trying to find different answers. There is the mystical answer. Look within you and you will find it. Look within. If that were the case, this world would not be so messed upbecause we could just naval-gaze into understanding our significance, and we wouldn’t be such miserable people. Other people have a philosophical approach and under the philosophical approach, there are a couple of different subsets. There is the survivalist who says, “My purpose is just to survive.” There is the naturalist who says, “The purpose of life is just to propagate the species, that’s it.” Well known philosopher, rap artist Ice-T said, “The only reason that we are here is to reproduce. Just chill out and reproduce. Keep the species alive.” How motivating. The Hedonist says, “The purpose of life is just pleasure. You know, eat, drink for tomorrow. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” The materialist says, “Acquisition is the purpose of life. Your life is measured by what you own.” All these answers fall short under the philosophical umbrella. And then there is the self-help way. You know, you can go to Barnes and Noble and find hundreds of books on self-help. Create your purpose. Discover your dream. Go after your goals. Have some ambitions. Dream big dreams. Aim high. Believe you can achieve. Never give up. Nothing is inherently wrong with any of these good bits of advice, but they will never guide you to the answer to this question: “What on earth am I here for?” You see, many of these gems of advice can help you be successful, but being a success and knowing your purpose in life are vastly different things. There are many successful failures who cannot answer the question: “What on earth am I here for?” Because our purpose is so much greater than our personal fulfillment. It’s far greater than our own happiness or even our own peace of mind.

You were made by God. You were made by God and you were made for God. And you were put here for His purposes and until we understand that, life will never make sense until we understand that truth. So what’s the answer? Why are we alive? Why do we take up space on this planet? Look at the next verse in your outline. Proverbs 16:4. “The Lord has made everything for his own purpose.” For his own purpose. God hasn’t made anything that doesn’t have a purpose. And God has five purposes for your life and during these 40 days we are going to dig into them deeply. Today, on Easter Sunday, I just want you to see the motive for those purposes. Look at the next verse. Ephesians 1:4. This is taken from The Message translation. “Long before he laid down earths foundations, he had us in mind, and settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.” What a wonderful verse. God made you to love you. Fill in that blank. I was created to be loved by God. That’s one major reason that you are on this earth for. You were created to be loved by God. God is love. Love creates and God created you. He didn’t need you. He wasn’t lonely, but he wanted to love you. That’s why you are here, to be loved by God.

Before there were cell phones, a salesman called his wife from a distant city, and after talking with her for a moment he hung up and walked away from the phone and he heard it ring. He went back thinking the operator on the other line was going to say there were extra charges. Instead, she said “I thought you would like to know just after you hung up, your wife said ‘I love you.’ ” You know, even when we hang up on God, He is still saying I love you. That’s the first reason why you are on this earth. To be loved by God.

Now, here’s the second,the second key question. Again, you can follow in your notes. The question of significance. Does my life matter? Does my life matter? Isaiah says, “My work all seems so useless. I have spent my strength for nothing and for no purpose at all.” This was said in one of his weaker moments, but if that is what anybody believes on a continuous basis, then life doesn’t seem to matter at all. Years ago I read about a developing trend in Europe. It was kind of depressing. It seems like more and more Europeans are planning to be buried in unmarked graves without any religious ceremony or ritual. The numbers in northern Germany are about 30%. In Copenhagen, Denmark, the numbers are 90% of the people in that country have decided to be buried in unmarked graves. When surveys try to get behind the reason, people say, “Well,our lives are meaningless. Our lives are worthless. I don’t really wish to be remembered after I am dead. What’s the point? Certainly there is no afterlife to worry about.” Those who think this remind me of King Philip of Spain. In the 15th century he had his countries coins stamped with this motto, “Ne Plus Ultra.” The translation, “there is nothing beyond.” Ne Plus Ultra. There is nothing beyond. Of course, he wasn’t referring to the afterlife. But his motto applies to those who hold no hope. King Philip’s motto referred to Spain’s proud belief that a traveler could venture no farther than its western extreme. But of course, King Philip was wrong. We are sitting in the space of which he said there is nothing beyond. And those who believe that our lives don’t matter are as in error as King Philip.

But some of you say, “Well it’s not that I don’t believe it, it’s just that I don’t know and I want to know. I want to believe that life matters.” Like Peter at the end of the passage that I read for you. Hoping against hope you see some evidence of God, but you’re not sure what those empty grave clothes mean. He didn’t believe but he started to investigate and he went away wondering at the possibilities. Friends, we are talking about a God thing here. We are talking about a God thing. A mystery. You know you just look around and there are tons of incredible stuff that we take for granted. Commonplace, like the apple seed and the apple that I showed the children. I want to show you a few pictures of God things. How about tulips? That’s not a tulip. What is that? If you go to the oak tree at the west entrance you will see about 20 or 30 red tulips. Think about tulips. I mean that little round bulb. You plant it once and every year the thing just grows, again, again, and again. Like clockwork. How about babies? Ever think of babies? I mean, when you think about the gestation process of nine months, I mean that is a God thing. That can’t be just explained by any basic; I mean you can explain it by biology, but you can’t explain life. How about nature? How about the creation? These are God things. How about the universe? The pictures of the universe that we have. Billions and billions of light years and stars. That’s a God thing. And how about an empty tomb? An empty tomb is a God thing.

You know, years ago my daughter was sharing something with us, something that her boyfriend had done at the time. He called her at 5:40 in the afternoon and asked her to go out to dinner at 6:00 o’clock and he couldn’t understand why she laughed and said, “I need more notice.” Well, she came into the kitchen where her mother and I were sitting and she said, “Guess what?” And she told us, “He calls me at 5:40 to go out to dinner at 6:00 o’clock,” and I said to her, “Yeah, so, What’s the big deal about that?” She looked at her mother, who was looking at me in the same way that she was starting to look at me ,and they both said together, “It’s a guy thing.” It’s a guy thing. Why was the tomb empty? It’s a God thing. It was the seal of Christ’s victory over death, and the proof that we too by faith will never die. We who believe in Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, will never die. Did you hear? We will never die. Say it with me. We will never die. Your life matters. And its purposes are eternal. Look at the notes. Look in here. Look at these scriptures. “I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born.” Another, you were scheduled each day. “You… scheduled each day of my life before I even began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!” God paid so much attention to your life, before you took a breath, everyday was recorded in his book. Look at the next one. “His plans endure forever;his purposes last eternally.” Fill it in, God says I was made to last forever. God has extremely long-range plans for you. What a wonderful belief and truth. You know one of the biggest ways that we waste our life is by thinking that our lives don’t matter. Just like the people in Copenhagen. Listen the five purposes that we are going to explore over the next 40 days are not just for the rest of your time on earth, they are for forever. They are for the rest of your life here and forever. These purposes aren’t just going to stop at death. God’s purposes are eternal. Look at the next verse. 2nd Corinthians 5:1. “When this tent we live in- our body here on earth- is torn down, God will have a house in heaven for us to live in, a home he himself has made, which will last forever.” He wants to keep you with himself for the rest of eternity.

You know my son, I told you he lives in San Diego, if I stretched a line from Baltimore to San Diego, 2,700 miles or whatever it is, the first millimeter of that line could not be compared to all the time that you will spend in eternity. Your life to all the time you will spend in eternity. And that’s why Proverbs, 9:6 says, “Leave your impoverished confusion and live! Walk up the street to a life of meaning.” So there you go, the question of existence: “Why am I alive?” To be loved by God.

The question of significance, does my life matter? “You matter so much I intend on keeping you with me forever” God says. And now thirdly, the third question is the question of intention. What is my purpose? What is my purpose? Look at what the Psalmist wrote. He’s talking to God and he says, “God why did you create us? Did you create us for nothing?” Bertrand Russel, one of the most famous philosophers of the 20th century and an Atheist said, “Unless you assume the existence of God, the question of life’s meaning and purpose is irrelevant.” If there is no God, if we are a freak chance of nature, if we are just complex pond scum, then guess what? Your life does not matter. But the resurrection of Jesus Christ in time-space history says otherwise. The changed lives of his confused followers say otherwise and point to the reality of God who provided a means of knowing him. An Atheist and a Christian were having a chat. The Atheist said to the Christian, “Give me one good reason why you believe Jesus rose again.” “I will give you a reason”, he said. “I just talked with Him this morning.” You can know him personally.

Let’s play a game. We are going to play a game. If you know Pampered Chef, don’t answer. Okay? What is this? What is this? (Holds up an apple corer) No, no, no. You’re the Pampered Chef people, don’t answer. This is an apple peeler corer slicer. Take that apple and you stick it on the end here, you turn this crank and that’s exactly what it does. The peel gets peeled off, it gets cored and sliced, boom. What would you do without this? I mean, how can any of you live without this? I don’t understand it. Well, here is the other thing. If you don’t know something’s purpose, it’s likely to be abused. You know, you could start to think of all kinds of things, what this should be used for. Okay? Do you want to know why there are so many abused people today? Because we don’t know the purpose of life. And the only way we will know what some things are for is to ask the inventor, to ask the creator, to ask the person who knows or read the owner’s manual to find out how it works.

Look at Proverbs 9:10 in the notes. “Knowing God results in every other kind of understanding.” So fill in the blank. God, I find my purpose by getting to know God. It all starts with God. Look at these next verses. They are so beautiful. “For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible… everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.” Look at Ephesians 1:11. “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for… part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” The more you get to know God, the more you will understand his ways and the wisdom and purpose of your life. At the end of 40 days, everybody who enters into this with contagious enthusiasm will know God a lot better or a little better.

Now, what are the next steps that you have to take? What do you have to do? I think there are a few types of folks in this congregation today. Some, hopefully like my son, who are seeking something. You are saying, “You know I am not sure about all this. It sounds a little weird, but I am honest enough to check it out.” If you are a seeker and a visitor, you’re saying, “What’s this 40 days? I am going home after today.” Well, you know what you can do. You can get one of the books off the welcome table. Small price, buy a book and you can read that book every day for the next 40 days and send us your impressions. Some of you are starters. Some of you are brand new believers and you are able to start off with a basic foundation with this 40 days. Some are called stumblers. I think stumblers basically say, “You know I call myself a Christian, but I am not really close to God. I have been honestly living for my plans and not for God’s.” If that is true, then it’s time to come home.

You know there are some situations and some circumstances in life that only Christ can heal. I was reading this past week in a magazine. Did you know back in 1995 or 1994, I mean think about the depth of the human heart and how sick it is when in Rwanda 800,000 people died in the space of a 100 days. Why? Because a rival tribe killed them. 800,000 people in 100 days. Now there are 150,000 prisoners. What are they going to do with them? What they have been trying to do is a program called Kachacki where they bring the surviving family members and the prisoners together, the prisoners to confess what they did and the family members to forgive. Nobody is doing itbecause they are afraid of the retribution. The people who are hurt are filled with hate. You know what happened? They started showing The Jesus Film in Rwanda. And after showing The Jesus Film to these prisoners, thousands publicly confessed their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and began to confess what they had done. And people who were filled with hate found that they had strength now to forgive because of Christ’s life in them. That’s what this is about. Finding strength where we can find it nowhere else. And some of you, who are strong believers, are going to find that you are going to grow in God as well. All made possible by our Lord Jesus Christ.

So listen to this last verse. Last thing on the list. No matter where you are, “It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from- if you want God, and you are ready to do as he says, the door is open.”

Let’s pray. Gracious God, we know it is never too late to be who we might have been. I know Lord that you had a purpose in bringing everyone here today on this Easter Sunday and some are feeling confused. Show yourself to each of us. If you don’t know what to say in prayer, just follow me in this prayer. Just say “me to God” as I pray. Dear God, I realize that if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be alive, but because you made me you must have a purpose for me. I admit that I have focused on my plans for life and not yours and I want to know your purposes for me so I commit the next 40 days of my life to learning about it. Thank you, that you made me to love me. Thank you, that you cared for me even when I didn’t know you. Thank you, that I was made to last forever. I want a life filled with meaning. I want to start by getting to know you better. So as best as I understand, I ask you Jesus Christ to come into my life and help me understand your purposes for me. I want to take the first step today. In your name, I pray. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

Life’s 3 Greatest Questions

What on earth am I here for?

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the Water
that sends out its roots to the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:7-8

Question Of Existence: Why Am I Alive?
“Why was I born? Was it only to have trouble and sorrow, to end my life in disgrace?” Jeremiah 20:18 (TEV)

“The Lord has made everything for his own purpose.” Proverbs 16:4a (GW)

“Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, and settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.” Ephesians 1:4 (Msg)

God: I Was Created To Be Loved By God.

Question Of Significance: Does My Life Matter?
“My work all seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and for no purpose at all.” Isaiah 49:4a (NLT)

“I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born.” Isaiah 44:2 (CEV)

“You… scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!” Psalm 139:16 (LB)

“His plans endure forever; his purposes last eternally.” Psalm 33:11 (GN)

God: I Was Made To Last Forever

“When this tent we live in-our body here on earth-is torn down, God will have a house in heaven for us to live in, a home he himself has made, which will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 5:1 (TEV)

“Leave your impoverished confusion and live! Walk up the street to a life with meaning.” Proverbs 9:6 (Msg)

Question Of Intention: What Is My Purpose?
“Why did you create us? For nothing?” Psalm 89:47 (NCV)

“Knowing God results in every other kind of understanding.” Proverbs 9:10b (LB)

God: I Find My Purpose By Getting To Know God.

“For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible… everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.” Colossians 1:16 (Msg)

“It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for… part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.” Ephesians 1:11-12 (Msg)

“It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from-if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open.” Acts 10:35 (Msg)