Jesus

We Become That House (Hebrews 3:1-6)

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This past Wednesday, Pete Theil, Amy Gordon, Peg Pickard and I met in the morning for prayer. We started by reading Hebrews 3:1-6, meditating on it for several minutes in silence, then offering something that really stood out to us from the text. We did this twice. And though I had been prepping for one topic, I realized I have at least 6 sermons to preach out of just this paragraph.

That’s not going to happen :) What I would like to do, though, is walk through this passage with you the way our small group did. This is going to break a lot of sermon rules because these are not necessarily related topics (though you will see at the end they tell one story). But I think it might be worth a break for the normal sermon approach to highlight a way to read and focus on the Bible that may be helpful for you in your reading of the Bible. Also, there are potentially 6 topics for you to pursue further on your own this week.  Here is the passage:

 So all of you who are holy partners in a heavenly calling, let’s turn our attention to Jesus, the Emissary of God and High Priest, who brought us the faith we profess; and compare Him to Moses, who also brought words from God to all God’s people (household). Both of them were faithful to their missions, to the One who called them. But we value Jesus more than Moses, in the same way that we value a builder more than the house he builds.  Every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Moses brought healing and redemption to his people as a faithful servant in God’s house, and he was a witness to the things that would be spoken later. But Jesus the Anointed was faithful as a Son of that house. (We become that house, if we’re able to hold on to the confident hope we have in God until the end.)

  1. All of you who are holy partners in a heavenly calling.

If we are followers of Jesus, we are holy partners in a heavenly calling. That’s amazing. Also, that’s sobering.All of those who follow Jesus are holy partners. Do I treat them that way? Do I think, pray for, speak about, and speak to my fellow believers as if we are holy partners in a heavenly calling? The implications here are huge. We are fulfilling a heavenly calling as a team,and I should want this team to be as strong as it can be.

  • I must encourage, challenge, build up, and comfort.
  • I must be patient, kind, long-suffering, gentle, and bold.
  • I must love deeply, thoroughly, and exhaustively.

What would change in our lives if we filtered our attitudes, words and actions through this filter?  How would the power of the gospel be more clearly seen in us? How much more would Jesus be glorified if his people treated his people as holy partners in a heavenly calling?

  1. Let’s turn our attention/fix our thoughts on/focus on/consider Jesus, the Emissary of Godand High Priest, who brought us the faith we profess.

 This isn’t glance at Jesus; this is be riveted with Jesus.

  • When I met Sheila, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her when she was in the room. It didn’t matter what else was going on, my eyes always went to her.
  • The first several times I went to Costa Rica, they laughed at me because I couldn’t stop talking about the mountains and taking pictures. Everywhere we went, that’s what I kept looking at.
  • I have three papers at eye level in front of my desk in the office. The first is a list Delynn gave me years ago about Humility, and it lists the fruits of pride. The second is a note I wrote myself after talking with my spiritual mentor several years ago: “Trusting God to carry me = trusting God to carry others.” The third is my certificate of ordination. The first one grounds me. The second one comforts me. The third one motivates me.

What does it look like to focus on Jesus? How do I not take my eyes off of him? How do I “pin him” on the wall in front of me? What does it look like for my attention to be constantly drawn to Jesus? When we fix our eyes on something, two things happen:we are guided, and we are comforted.

  • I learned that in weightlifting, your body follows your eyes. If you are doing a squat, don’t look down or up. You will tend to fall forward or backward. Look straight ahead. If you want to plant a straight row in a field, find a landmark on the other side of the field and never look away. We are guidedby where we fix our eyes.
  • After my accident, I kept my gaze fixed on the road because I wanted that ambulance to get there. When it finally pulled into view, I relaxed. We are comfortedwhen what we have been longing for appears. (We are given hope; encouraged; we can endure).

What do I spend the majority of my time considering? What’s fixed right in front of me on the wall of my life? What guides me and comforts me? What orders my steps throughout the day, and what helps me rest?

  1. And compare Him to Moses, who also brought words from God to all of God’s people. Both of them were faithful to their missions, to the One who called them. But we value Jesus more than Moses, in the same way that we value a builder more than the house he builds. 

 The first thing I thought was that I’m not sure I tend to value the builder more than the house. Even if you build a multi-million dollar house, you want to the builder to be good, but do you really value the builder more than the house? I’ve been in and around construction for most of my adult life, and I’ve seen a loooooot of people who give their houses much more value than they do the builder. How do I know this? Because they treat the builder like crap, but they treat their house as if it were made of gold.

I think this is because we are consumers by default in our fallen nature. Our sinful nature values that things we are given more than the people who gives it. Our sinful nature values what people can do for us more than who they are. And dare I say that our sinful nature defaults toward valuing the things of God more than God. What do we think about more:

  • The healing God can give us vs. The Healer himself?
  • The friends we want God can give us vs. The Friend of Sinners?
  • The gifts of the Spirit vs. The Giver of the Gifts?
  • The comfort of God vs. the Comforter himself?
  • The way of God vs. the One who is The Way?
  • Life more abundant vs. the One who gives that life?

 There is something important about the spiritual discipline of fixing our eyes on the builder so that we never value what has been made or given more than the One who made it and gave it to us. 

  1. Every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.

 First thing that stand out: God built everything.

Second thing that stands out: who is building the house of my life? Well, as a Christian, I know God is. After he begins a good work, he keeps on going. But what outside contractors am I hiring to help him build my house?  It’s one thing to have subcontractors that the Builder brings in and uses. I think of this as Christian friends and mentors, authors and preachers and theologians and musicians who love and honor God. But am I inviting competing builders to work on this one house? That’s a disaster waiting to happen. Isn’t the command to have no other gods kind of like saying no other builders in this context?

Another way of saying this: what or whom am I choosing for my formation? We talked a couple weeks ago about spiritual disciplines, pursuing purposeful formation in Christ. I wonder, though, for how many of us accidental formation is happening in us in ways we don’t see.

  • What builds our thoughts about politics? A particular news network or party line, or the Bible?
  • What builds our thoughts about sex and marriage? Culture or the Bible?
  • What builds our thoughts about parenting?
  • What builds our thoughts about what it means to be successful?
  • What builds our thoughts about immigrants and refugees?
  • What builds our thoughts about how to run a business, or be a good employee?
  • What builds our thoughts about money?
  • What builds our thoughts about church?
  • What builds our thoughts about how we should use our speech?
  • What builds our thoughts about what’s okay when it comes to how we treat others, especially those with whom we disagree?
  • What actually builds our thoughts about God? And Sin? And Salvation? And Forgiveness?

Bidden or unbidden, we all have builders. Who are we inviting to build?

5.Moses brought healing and redemption to his people as a faithful servant in God’s house, and he was a witness to the things that would be spoken later.  But Jesus the Anointed was faithful as a Son of that house.

He delivered the Word of God faithfully. He was faithful in all God appointed him to do (Exodus 40:16).” Is there any greater compliment in the Kingdom of God than to have it said we have been faithful in delivering the word of God and bringing healing and redemption to God’s people?

  • If the questions is,“What do you want to do with your life?”the answer must be, “Be faithful in delivering the word of God and bringing healing and redemption to God’s people.”
  • If the question is,“What is God’s plan for me?”The answer must me, “Be faithful in delivering the word of God and bringing healing and redemption to God’s people.” “No, I meant like what job I should get or who I should marry or even if I should get married or….”I understood the question. You can be faithful in delivering the word of God and bringing healing and redemption to God’s people in every circumstance.

Also, there is no room for hero worship in Christianity unless it’s Jesus. The writer of Hebrews already pointed out that, though angels are awesome, they are nothing compared to Jesus. Now he’s noting that Moses, a hero to the Jewish people, is a servant in the house of God. Jesus is the Son whom Moses serves. We can’t become infatuated with servants when we have access to the Master.

I read this and I wonder: do I have a tendency to elevate servants of God higher than I should? I can simultaneously say, “That person is a faithful servant of God,” and say, “But that house needs some cleaning.”

6. We become that house, if we’re able to hold on to the confident hope we have in God. 

What house do we become? The house of God’s people, the church. That’s what we are becoming. A house full of holy partners in a heavenly calling. What a tremendous privilege and responsibility.

If…. Is this conditional? Does this mean we might not become that house of we don’t hold on to the hope we have in God until the end? We can talk in Message Plus about whether or not we can lose our salvation. For our purposes, I just want to make this point: RighteousPerseveranceis the proof of the reality of salvation. Not ease, or comfort, or signs and wonders. Not size of ministry or greatness of reputations or good deeds. Not book deals or gold dust or radio shows or a theology degree or even a well worn Bible. Righteous Perseverance.

We can tell if we are really in the house of God because we stay in the house of God in a life of surrender, repentance, and a commitment to worshiping God with our imperfect lives while we hold fast to the hope we have in Christ; that is, his love and sacrifice will cover a multitude of my sins.

And once we “be,” we start to “become”:Think of a telescope unfolding one stage at a time until it functions at full strength. Our salvation unfolds until we experience its fullest expression at the return of Jesus and in the life to come (Romans 8:24-25; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; 1 Peter 1:6-9; Revelation 2:26-28) (preceptaustin.org)

These 6 different lines of thought give us one narrative: Fix our eyes on Jesus, the Master and Builder of our house, whose plan is to work in us until we die as he builds us and builds his church into the fullness of salvation and righteousness.

The One Who Has Been Given Dominion Over All Things (Hebrews 1)

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Long ago, at different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. 2 But in these last days, it has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.

In different times and in various ways is apparently any form of communication: prophets, angels, burning bushes, pillars of fire and smoke, talking donkeys – any way God communicated or revealed himself to the world. It was all telling the same story.

Some have pointed out this is kind of a musical image. Music has different parts that harmony to participate in the same song; so, too, the Old Testament writers, where “all the prophets testified about him.” (Acts 10:43).

It was also incomplete, and Jesus came to complete the revelation that began with the prophets. In the past God spoke in all these ways. For years the Hebrews got partial messages and saw through a glass very dimly. That’s over though. No need to watch and wait for the next cryptic message – everything we need for life and godliness has come. God spoke fully through Christ. He said everything we need to hear. Now, at a very particular time and in a very particular way, not only was God’s voice revealed fully, but God himself has stepped into world history in the person of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps because they were used to get revelation a piece at a time, they were enamored with the next messenger who would bring the next piece– as we are about to see, they were seriously excited about angels bringing messages. The rest of this chapter criticizes the pursuit of messengers, even the most amazing ones, because Christ has brought the message in its fullness. We already have the message – all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). There is no more waiting for something new. Jesus came and rolled out the whole story. Humans used to wonder what God meant or what God wanted. Jesus told them. Now we know.[1]

The Son, who is the radianceof God’s glory and the exact expression/image of His nature, sustains all that exists through the power of His word. He was seated at the right hand of God once He Himself had made the offering that purified us from all our sins. 4

This language can throw us because it’s the language of analogies. Analogies are almost always imperfect, and even more so when talking about God. When we think of the image or expression of his person, we think photo or painting: it’s not the real deal, it’s just a representation. That’s not what this language conveyed. The author is careful to say that the One who expresses God’s image created and sustained the world. That’s what God does. [2] Now the writer goes into a long discourse on angels. I will read the whole thing, then we will talk.

This Son of God is elevated as far above the heavenly messengers as His holy name is elevated above theirs.5 For no heavenly messengers have ever heard God address them with these words of the psalms: “You are My Son. Today I have become Your Father (begotten you).” Or heard Him promise, “I will be to You a Father, and You will be My Son.”[3]

Now, when the Son, the firstborn of God, was brought into the world, God said, “Let all My heavenly messengers worship Him.7 Concerning them, God said, “I make My heavenly messengers like the winds, and My servants like a flame.”

But to the Son He said, God, Your throne is eternal; You will rule Your kingdom with the scepter of justice. 9 You have loved what is right and hated what is evil; That is why God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness and lifted You above Your companions.[e]

10 And God continues, In the beginning, You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth, and set the skies above us with Your own hands.11 But while they will someday pass away, You remain forever; when they wear out like old clothes,12 You will roll them up and change them into something new. But You will never change. Your years will never come to an end.[f]

13 Did God ever say to any of the heavenly messengers, “Sit here, at My right hand, in the seat of honor;and I’ll put all Your enemies under Your feet?”14 No, of course not. The heavenly messengers are only spirits and servants, sent out to minister to those who will certainly inherit salvation.

This seems like an odd sidebar with which to open the book, but it must have been a big enough deal that the author felt like he had to lead the book off with it.

Angels were very popular in the Jewish community from the second century B.C. through the first century A.D.  They didn’t usually worship them (though there is warning elsewhere in the NT), but a whole hierarchy of angels was developed along with some theological teachings that were not present in the Old Testament.

  • OT stories were often retold with angels performing acts that were attributed to God.
  • They would at times ask them for help (the Maccabeans invoked the unnamed angel to help them fight).
  • During the Second Temple period (which ended in AD 70, so this would be at the time the NT was written) it was assumed that mysteries of the end of days and of man's future could be discovered only through the intermediary of angels.
  • Enoch shows up in Jewish literature as the transmitter of heavenly wisdom; his authority is derived exclusively from his constant communication with angels.
  • Various Jewish sources attributed the wisdom of Noah and Abraham to their intimate knowledge of the world of angels.
  • There was one Jewish sect in Egypt during the first century (al-Maghārrīya) that claimed that it was angels who created the world and addressed the prophets.[4]

Of course, angels were an important part of the biblical narrative, and the part that stood out to the Jewish people at that time was the part about the Law.

  • Deuteronomy 33:2 mentions “holy ones” that accompanied God at Sinai during the giving of the Law to Moses.
  • Stephen said the Law was “delivered by angels” in Acts 7:53.
  • Even Paul, in Galatians 3:19, says the law was “put in place through angels”.[5]

Most commentators believe the best understanding is that angels were with God to observe and give glory. Since angels are literally “messengers,” could God have used them? Sure. That’s not required by the language used in the text. [6]

Considering the high regard the Jewish people had for angels, their presence added tremendous weight to the moment.[7]Think of how when we have a ribbon cutting for a new building or venture; we want lots of people, and the more important they are, the better. If the “ribbon cutting” for the Law was attended by a host of angels, how amazing and important even the Law – which had yet to be fulfilled by Jesus - must be.

So here’s what we have so far.

  1. Jesus is God. Like Jesus said, “Those who have seen me have seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
  2. Through the offering of Jesus (his death), we are purified from our sins.Jesus Christ is the means of salvation.
  3. We only worship Jesus.If you think a myriad of angels is amazing, they are nothing in light of God’s glory, majesty and power.“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize.  Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions”  (Colossians 2:18). Angels are God’s servants, created by him do his will.  In fact, they are so amazing we are easily tempted to elevate them too high, even to the point of worship.  Even John was tempted.  “And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me.  But he said to me, ‘Do not do it!  I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book.  Worship God!’”(Revelation 22:8-9).
  4. Angels are here to minister at God’s command to those who have or will experience salvation.

So, the writer of Hebrews begins by stressing that nothing is more important than Jesus. Nothing is more glorious, nothing is more powerful, nothing else is deserving of our worship. Plain and simple, this is a warning against idolatry. We must never gaze upon or pursue the gift (even if it is an angel) above the giver. This is sin.

To the early Jewish audience, one of their big distractions  - idols? - was angels.  They were so enamored with angels that they were losing sight of Jesus. I asked our leadership team this week what our equivalent is now. What distracts us? What runs the risk of overshadows Jesus or diverting our eyes from the Creator to the creation? These things may be just fine, but we’ve in some sense elevated the creature over the creator (to quote Romans 1). They assured me I could make everyone uncomfortable – and then gave me examples to prove it. So let’s try it.

  • Angels once again–There is a resurgence in Christian books that do more than simply explain what the Bible says. They increasingly encourage a pursuit of the angelic. That’s dangerous territory. That’s not a biblical command. God deploys angels to us as He wills and as we need them. We don’t need to practice to see them; if God wants them seen, they will be seen. We don’t need to practice to hear them; if God has a message, it will be heard. We certainly don’t need to and would be wrong to pray to them. Let’s thank God for his supernatural ministers – and then refocus on Jesus.
  • Politics –do we think more about politicians than we do about Jesus? Are we more invested in the Kingdom of America than we are with the Kingdom of God?Which do we study most? Which one captures our imagination and thoughts more of the time? Which one are we the most publicly bold and passionate about standing for or pledging our allegiance to? Where is our hope? “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psalm 20).That’s a warning against trusting power and wealth over God.
  • Christian “Royalty”.Famous Christian preacher or singers, for example. To be clear, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We do ourselves a great disservice when we ignore the rich insights into God’s truth from those who have gone before. The danger is when we elevate the author or the opinion above the Creator. Just remember that our pursuit is Christ and our measuring rod is scripture. I love certain writers and pastors like Timothy Keller and Shane Wood and Matt Chandler. But they are just men. They are winds and flame. I dare not put weight on them that should only be put on Christ. I dare not turn to their words before God’s word. I dare not leave their words untested.
  • The Things Of The Kingdom– Can God heal us? Absolutely God can – physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. Can God provide us with money and a good job? Sure, if He so desires. Can God make us happy? It is in His power. Are there times when God provides sweet experiences of His presence and blessing? Absolutely. Is that why I’m a Christian? Am I seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, or am I seeking first all of the things that are found in various times and in various ways in the Kingdom? If, like Job, all of them are taken from me, will I yet praise God? Is the fact of His grace sufficient?  The things of the Kingdom are also servants of God, which He gives as He will. May we never forget that the glory of the things in the Kingdom are nothing, nothing in light of the glory of God.

 

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[1]Even today, we want our prophets. We want our new books with new words, but we forget all that we need for life and godliness was fully delivered 2000 years ago. To live as if that is not enough reveals, I fear, a lack of trust in what God revealed in Christ.

[2]“It is a metaphor taken from sealing; the… seal leaving the full impression of its every part on the wax to which it is applied. From these words it is evident that the apostle states Jesus Christ to be of the same essence with the Father. “ (Adam Clarke)

[3]Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee - These words are quoted from  Psalm 2:7, a psalm about Messiah;  this is also quoted by Paul (Acts 13:33; Romans 1:4) as referring to the resurrection of Christ.  Others speculate this is a reference to the incarnation, when Jesus was literally born as a son.

[4]https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/angels-and-angelology-2

[5]A lot of my information here came from an article entitled “Why Does Hebrews Start with Angels?” from readingacts.com

[6]By the disposition of angels - Εις διαταγας αγγελων . After all that has been said on this difficult passage, perhaps the simple meaning is, that there were ranks, διαταγαι, of angels attending on the Divine Majesty when he gave the law: a circumstance which must have added greatly to the grandeur and solemnity of the occasion; and to this  Psalm 68:17; seems to me most evidently to allude: The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even many thousands of angels: the Lord is among them as in Sinai, in the holy place. It was not then by the mouths nor by the hands of angels, as prime agents, that Moses, and through him the people, received the law; but God himself gave it, accompanied with many thousands of those glorious beings. As it is probable they might be assisting in this most glorious solemnity, therefore St. Paul might say,  Galatians 3:19, that it was ordained by angels, διαταγεις δι 'αγγελων, in the hand of a Mediator. And as they were the only persons that could appear, for no man hath seen God at any time, therefore the apostle might say farther, (if indeed he refers to the same transaction, see the note there), the word spoken by angels was steadfast,  Hebrews 2:2. But the circumstances of this case are not sufficiently plain to lead to the knowledge of what was done by the angels in this most wonderful transaction; only we learn, from the use made of this circumstance by St. Stephen, that it added much to the enormity of their transgression, that they did not keep a law, in dispensing of which the ministry of angels had been employed. (Adam Clarke’s commentary)

[7]Think of how Paul notes how the Galatian church welcomed him as if he were “an angel of God” in Galatians 4:14. He legit was bearing the message of God.

The Passion and Resurrection of the Christ

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[From a compilation of the Gospel narratives, all of which add insightful details to the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. These narrative begin in Mark 15, Matthew 27, Luke 23, and John 18.]

Early in the morning the leading priests and the elders met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked him.  Jesus replied, “So you say.”

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent.  “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?”Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted.  This year there was a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

The leading priests and the elders said,“By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.” They persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death.  When Pilate heard this, he was frightened.

He took Jesus back into the headquartersagain and asked him, “Where are you from?”But Jesus gave no answer. “Why don’t you talk to me? Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. Those who handed me over to you have the greater sin.”

Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”

   And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death—his blood be on us and on our children!”

So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?”

The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”

Pilate responded,“Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

“Crucify him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?”

“Crucify him!” yelled the crowd.

 Pilate responded,“Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find him not guilty.”

So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

The soldiers stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him.  They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted,“Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it.  When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross.  They went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”).  The soldiers gave him wine mixed with vinegar, but when Jesus had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

The soldiers nailed him to the cross, then gambled for his clothes while keeping guard. A sign fastened to the cross above Jesus’ head announced the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.

The leading priests objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”

Pilate replied,“No, what I have written, I have written.”

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery.  “Look at you now! You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus.  “He saved others but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him!  He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”  

Two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

One of them scoffed and said, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?  We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land.  At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah.  One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink.  But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”

Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.  At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened.

The Roman officerand the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

The Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath.  So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down.  So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out.

As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth.  He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. 

The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate.   “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’  So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.”  So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.  Suddenly there was a great earthquake! An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it.  His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

Then the angel spoke to the women.“Don’t be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.  And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. They ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas, was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you. Thomas, put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!”Thomas exclaimed.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book.  But these are written so that you may continue to believethat Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=47OkuvT5JFo[/embed]

 

If there is one thing that is more clear than ever, it’s that the world is broken, and I’m not saying this just because Michigan and not Ohio State is in the Final Four.

  • Shooters (who will use knives if they can’t get guns)
  • Sexual harassers and abusers (#metoo movement and human sex trafficking)
  • Families literally imprisoning their own children
  • Love letters to mass murderers (the Parkland Shooter)
  • Twitter abuse that exposes the cruelty that simmers in more people than we knew
  • Racism that is a very real ongoing problem in our culture
  • This Nxvim cult I have been reading about that literally brands and enslaves women
  • Netflix has more and more documentaries about corruption, lies and greed in business

Last week, a friend of Sheila’s was shot by her husband and put in the trunk of his car, where she stayed until one of her six children talked their father into turning himself in.

There is evil at work in the world, and we know it. It’s not just the stories ‘out there’ that get headlines; it's the story of our own life that reveals how all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. (Romans 8:22)

Maybe we have had things done to us that have damaged us. These are the things that we see or experience and we know deep in our souls, “This is not okay. That is not the way life is supposed to be.” We know something is wrong, and we instinctively desire that justice be done, that God deal with evil in the world. The prophet Amos said, “Let justice roll down like a river,” and that resonates with us. (Amos 5:24)

But that will put us in a bind, because we have done things to othersthat deserve condemnation. Something we said or did contributed to the brokenness of this world, and to someone else’s life in particular. We did or said something that was not okay, and honestly, we are the perpetrator, not the victim. Our words or our actions or even our attitudes have hurt others. There are obvious ones where someone is physically hurt, right? But there are more less noticeable ways we go about doing this.

  • Our addictions lead us to use and hurt those around us.
  • Our pornography use demeans and dehumanizes others.
  • Our sarcasm leaves deep scars.
  • Our insecurities cause us to lash out at others who have done nothing wrong.
  • Our need to be in control makes us cruel and manipulative.
  • As parents, we pass on too many of our dysfunctions to our kids, and as kids, we have wounded our parents more than we know.

Let’s be honest: we have all done things that deserve condemnation. There is plenty of guilt to go around.  And this means that if God is going to judge evil, God is going to judge us.

Enter Jesus, the incarnation, God in human flesh.On our own, we are spiritually dead. Our sins have doomed us to be swept away by the justice of God. Jesus came to take that flood on himself, and in so doing bring peace between sinful, fallen humanity and a holy God. And because Jesus was fully God and fully human, as a perfect man he satisfied God’s uncompromising justice against sinful humanity; as God, he revealed God’s unfailing love in his sacrifice of himself to pay the penalty He demands.

“God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

Or, as John so eloquently puts it in Scripture:

“God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that whoever believes on Him will not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but so the world through Him could be saved.” John 3:16-17)

Jesus said his death would rescue us from the ultimate penalty that we deserve for what we have done; his resurrection shows that He has the power to do what He says he will do. He has shown us that, in the midst of this broken world, Jesus loves us enough to give his life so that we can truly live, and he is strong enough to offer the only kind of healing and hope that can save even the worst of us sinners.  And here is where the radical and perhaps even scandalous message of the gospel really kicks in.

  • Jesus came to save those who have been verbally, physically, emotionally or spiritually abused – and those who did the abusing.
  • Jesus came to save those who have been used – and those of us who use others for our own selfish gain.
  • Jesus came to save the cheated on and the cheater, the back-stabber and the back stabbed, the liar and the lied to, the grudge-holders and the grudge creators.
  • Jesus came to save those who self-destruct, and hate, and judge, and lash out, and hurt others.

And since all of us are on this list – probably in every category in some way -  that’s great news for all of us.

2,000 years ago, we were visited by a God who entered the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). That is still what Jesus does today.

No matter what you have done, or what has been done to you, or what you think of Jesus, it is still true: “That by believing in Him you will have forgiveness of sins, the redemption of your soul, and life everlasting.”

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iLscNgnRSU[/embed]

Free - From The Penalty And Power Of Sin

Over and over in the opening of Genesis, we read that God created and declared  the world ‘good’ (towb, good in the widest sense; some would say it meant the world was prepared or completed,). As opposed to other ancient creation stories where everything was created by an act of violence, this was an act of artistry, care, and design.

This was a world where ‘shalom’ characterized life. Shalom is a Hebrew word found throughout the Old Testament that means peace, interconnectedness, wholeness, fullness of life. It’s life as it ought to be in a world without sin, brokenness or despair. 

There is a problem.

Adam and Eve are given a choice – to be obedient to God and live within God’s design or choose their own way. God said, “You can have all these things, but there is one thing here that I don’t want you to have.  You don’t need to know why, it’s just not good for you. There are some things that will make life worse.” 

But of course, Adam and Eve focused on that one thing they couldn’t have in the midst of all they could.  And being people with free will – the means and the capacity to do what they choose – they did what any of us would have done.

They chose their own way, and immediately the world began to break apart in what we call The Fall.  God said to them, “What have you done? (Literally, “Why did you make/craft this?”)  Now they have to live in a world in which the blessing of God is distorted; now they have to live in a world that they broke.

Now, a life that was supposed to be characterized by harmony and wholeness would be full of chaos and brokenness.  Now, there would be violence instead of gentleness, deception instead of truth, rebellion instead of obedience.

As Genesis unfolds, we see the original version of “that escalated quickly.” Cain kills Abel; soon men are bragging that they’ve killed a ton of people; before long, the whole world is evil in God’s sight. It really doesn’t get any better as you read the Old Testament. Paul would eventually write to the church in Rome that all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. We are in ‘bondage to decay’ and ‘subject to futility’ (Romans 8). A modern writer put it this way:

Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and television sets they stuff it with, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it…it aches.” (Bernard Levin, British columnist)

We know the source of the problem: sin.

For all the criticism we have of Adam and Eve, we would have made the same choice they did. They are what we call archetypes, real people who in a broader sense are all of us. Their story would have been our story. We default to sin.

  • All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)
  • Apart from God, we are enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6, 16-17)
  • The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
  • We have bodies of death in need of deliverance (Romans 7:24)

The Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sin’ in the original language. The word sin comes from the Old 
English word synn, which is from the Germanic sunta or the Latin word sons, both of which mean guilty.[1] The Biblical writers were pretty creative with how many ways they expressed the many reasons we are guilty:

  1. hamartia; to miss the mark. “We all fall short of (or “miss”) the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) The devil has done this from the beginning (1 John 3:8)
  2. Paraptoma; trespass. A blunder.  (Matthew 6:14-15)
  3. Parabasos; crossing a specific line.  Think of an athletic field in which there are boundaries you cannot cross without penalty (Galatians 3:19)
  4. chatta’ah : willful going against what one knows is right and accidentally going 
against the divine order of things (Leviticus 4:14; Exodus 32:34)
  5. pasha: rebel; breaking a rule that has been established (Jeremiah 3:13)
  6. avon: willful 
or continuing sin (Genesis 15:16)
  7. adikia; injustice (Luke 18:6; 1 John 5;17).  Action that causes visible harm to another person in violation of divine standard
  8. Anomia; lawlessness.  When we read, “Whoever commits sin (hamartia) also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 1 John 3:4), we see that even the most accidental of well-intentioned moments of sin are like the worst.

Eskimo and Inuit cultures have around 50 words for snow. [2] There is a lot of snow and a lot of different conditions, so they want to be very precise. Apparently, the biblical writers saw a lot of sin, and they wanted to be precise. 

We look around at all the atrocities around us and think, “How can this be? Why do people fly planes into building, and wipe out entire tribes?  Why do people abuse other people?  Why do so many people exploit others sexually and financially? Why are people mean?

Is it poverty?  Then economic wealth should fix everything.

Lack of education?  Then we can throw more money at our schools and all will be well.

Lack of information? Free internet for all.

Corrupt political parties?  We can elect a new president and resolve the problem.

Greedy corporation and people?  We can picket and boycott.

But have any of those responses ever offered a long-term, lasting solution to the problem? No. The problem lies in sinful human hearts.  Or as G.K. Chesterton famously said when asked what the problem with the world was: “I am.”

It is important to humbly embrace this harsh fact of the world.

  • I embrace behaviors and make lifestyle choices that destroy me and hurt those around me. Others do the same to me, but at the end of the day I make my own choices.
  • I decide my way is better than God’s way.
  • I say mean things, and lose my temper, and gossip, and lie, and cheat, and feel jealous when other people succeed, and wish the world revolved around me, and view people as things, and treat things better than I treat people?

We don’t fail our spouses, or badly raise our children, or hurt our friends because we can’t get Dr. Phil on our cable. Our core lack of inner peace is not because our health care provider does not give us enough coverage, or Big Oil makes a lot of money, or the stock market is out of our control, or politics is corrupt, or fake news is fake.

This sickness is within us. We must own up to this or whatever diagnosis and treatment we choose will not make us well.

But this is where the story makes an important turn. It does not have to be this way. God is not stumped by the human capacity to undermine ourselves. God did not forsake Adam and Eve  - he covered them and promised them an ultimate victory over the very thing that tempted them. We fall, and there are consequences to that fall, but God does not forsake us. 

Like God covered up the shame and nakedness of Adam and Eve and showed them the role of sacrifice as a means of redemption, Jesus covers up our shame, our spiritual nakedness, and offers us Himself as the means to triumph over the power and destructiveness of sin.

“People who believe in me, though they are dead, they can still live.” - Jesus, in John 11:25

“When the Son has made you free, you are free indeed.” (John 8:36) Literally: “When Jesus has set you free from the restrictions of sin, you will be truly free to live.”

So sin is a problem, but there is a solution. The only way we can be saved is through Jesus Christ.

The objective basis and means of salvation is God's sovereign and gracious choice to be "God with us" in the person of Jesus Christ, who is described as both author and mediator of salvation ( Heb 2:10 ; 7:25 ). But the movement of Jesus' life goes through the cross and resurrection. It is therefore "Christ crucified" that is of central importance for salvation ( 1 Cor 1:23 ), for "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" ( 1 Cor 15:3 ) and was handed to death for our trespasses ( Rom 4:25 ). What Jesus did in our name he also did in our place, giving "his life as a ransom for many" ( Matt 20:28 ). And if Christ demonstrated his love by dying when we were still sinners, how much more shall we now be saved by his life? ( Rom 5:8-10 ). So critical is the resurrection to the future hope of salvation that ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’ ( 1 Cor 15:17 ).  (“Salvation,” http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/salvation/)

We are meant to be free from the wages and power of sin. We are meant to be free to pursue shalom once again. The death and resurrection of Jesus is proof that we who are dead can be raised to new life spiritually in this life and physically for eternity.

So freedom - yay! – but let’s not forget the cost.

We observe Memorial Day to honor those who gave their life so that others could live. It’s what we mean when we say, “Freedom isn’t free.” We must never forget to honor a Savior who gave his life so we could live and be free.

Forgiveness involves suffering on the part of the one forgiving. The greater the forgiveness, the greater the suffering. We experience this in small ways all the time. When we forgive people, we not only take the pain of the original hurt (against our happiness, reputation, self-image, etc), but we give up the right to inflict the same in return. We give up making them feel what we felt. True forgiveness will cost us something. And the greater the sin that needs to be forgiven, the greater the cost of forgiveness.

“God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the eternal PENALTY of sin; a overwhelming debt we build all our lives will be covered because Jesus has gone to the Cross to take our just penalty upon himself. The wages or cost of sin is still death; it’s just that Jesus paid it for you.

Justice must be served because God is just; to save just one of us, it would have cost him a crucifixion. This should always humble us, because it reminds us that we are more sinful than we want to admit. 

But mercy must be offered because God is merciful. To save just one of us, Jesus was willing to do this. This should always encourage us, because it reminds us that God’s love for us is so much deeper than we can ever imagine. 

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the present POWER of sin. We were once dead in sin. We were incapable of bringing ourselves to life, and we were going to inevitably default to sin. Because the Holy Spirit is now in us, we have God’s power to break what the Bible calls “chains” of sin. We will struggle with temptation, but we are not doomed to failure. God will work in us (sanctification).

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, one day we will be freed from the very PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. This is the solution that frees us from a life of brokenness and sin and an eternity of despair.

 

[1]  (HT John Oakes, “What Are The Origins of the Word Sin?”)

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/there-really-are-50-eskimo-words-for-snow/2013/01/14/e0e3f4e0-59a0-11e2-beee-6e38f5215402_story.html?utm_term=.a0cbcb729310

 

The Days We Celebrate (Easter 2017)

1 Corinthians 15The Voice (VOICE)

 Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I preached to you when we first met. It’s the essential message that you have taken to heart, the central story you now base your life on; and through this gospel, you are liberated…. 3-4 For I passed down to you the crux of it all which I had also received from others, that the Anointed One, the Liberating King, died for our sins and was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. All this happened to fulfill the Scriptures; it was the perfect climax to God’s covenant story. 

Afterward He appeared alive to Cephas (you may know him as Simon Peter), then to the rest of the twelve. If that were not amazing enough, on one occasion, He appeared to more than 500 believers at one time. Many of those brothers and sisters are still around to tell the story, though some have fallen asleep in Jesus. Soon He appeared to James, His brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church, and then to all the rest of the emissaries He Himself commissioned.  8 Last of all, He appeared to me…

13 Friends, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then even the Anointed hasn’t been raised; 14 if that is so, then all our preaching has been for nothing and your faith in the message is worthless. 15 And what’s worse, all of us who have been preaching the gospel are now guilty of misrepresenting God because we have been spreading the news that He raised the Anointed One from the dead (which must be a lie if what you are saying about the dead not being raised is the truth)…

Friends17 if the Anointed has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is worth less than yesterday’s garbage, you are all doomed in your sins, 18 and all the dearly departed who trusted in His liberation are left decaying in the ground. 19 If what we have hoped for in the Anointed doesn’t take us beyond this life, then we are world-class fools, deserving everyone’s pity.

20 But the Anointed One was raised from death’s slumber and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death. 21 For since death entered this world by a man, it took another man to make the resurrection of the dead our new reality. 22 Look at it this way: through Adam all of us die, but through the Anointed One all of us can live again. 

______________________________________________

We live in a world in desperate need of peace.

Terrorism, rumors of wars, persecution, genocide, human trafficking, tension between police and citizens, political fighting, social media frenzies of name-calling and insults. It hits closer to home, too: our families, our workplace, our friendships, our church. Then there is the lack of peace deep inside – the depression, anxiety, despair and shame. We live in a world in desperate need of peace.

I want to talk about how Jesus’ death and resurrection makes peace possible.

There is a Hebrew word, Shalom,that refers to peace with God, within, and with others. In many ways it takes us back to the Garden of Eden, at a place and time when everything was good. We have wandered far from that place of peace and rest, and the history of the world shows that we do a terrible job re-creating peace on our own. The prophet Jeremiah lamented the people who say, “’Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace”; Luke records that Jesus wept for Jerusalem: “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace.”

The prophet Isaiah said that one day there would be a Prince of Peace; Paul wrote that Jesus is our peace; Jesus said he came to bring a peace that was unlike anything the world could give. When he appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, one of the first things he said was, “Be at peace.”

This promise of peace through Jesus Christ is our hope in a fallen and broken world, and that’s our focus today.

Peace With God

We were created to be at peace with God – pure, holy, unstained by sin. Genesis talks about the close communion of God and Adam; it’s that kind of peace that is the goal. Unashamed, guiltless, not covering or hiding our sins or ourselves.

But sin ruined that kind of peace. And lest we blame Adam, we all contribute. We all choose to do that which appalls a righteous and holy God. Everyone is directed by their conscience; Christians are directed by the Bible and empowered by the Holy Spirit – and yet we still at times choose to willfully choose a path of spiritual, emotional, relational and sometimes physical destruction that we know offends  the God who created and loves us and hurts those around us. We don’t just ignore God or make mistakes; we are rebels. Some of us are just more obvious about it than others.

It not that we are totally unaware. If nothing else, our stories betray us. We want a line between good and evil, a really clear demarcation: “There are evil people and things; there are good people and things.” We want Sauron vs. Gandalf; the Lion vs. the Witch; Captain America vs. the Red Skull; Ohio State vs. anyone else, really.

While those stories are instructive and good, it’s not what we experience in real life. Even the writers of Scripture knew this. Look at any primary character in the Old Testament and find one whose life was a pure as snow. They don’t exist. The line between good and evil runs right through the center of our hearts. It’s why we are awesome parents one day and horrible parents the next. It’s why one day I’m the husband my wife dreamed about when she was a kid and the next day I’m not even close. It’s why our friendships struggle, and our families fight, and even church can feel like a battleground.

The whole world is in a war between sin and holiness, and at times the epic heroes arise and defeat the classic villains, and we cheer (as we should), but more often than not we see that murky middle battleground where the Boromirs and the children who visited Narnia and the Tony Starks struggle to embrace the good and reject the evil. And even then that just reminds us that the epicenter of this battle is in our heart.

We see in the Old Testament how God instituted a plan to begin a restoration project that pointed toward Jesus. It starts with Abraham.

God made a covenant, an agreement with Abraham,  that Paul alluded to in the passage we read today (“ the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was the climax to God’s covenant story”). God promised that he would bless the world through Abraham and his descendants, who would become the children of Israel. Abraham just needed to be obedient and follow God. To seal the covenant, it was typical at that time for the two parties to kill an animal, dismember it, and walk through the middle as a way of saying, “If I break the covenant, may this be done to me.” In a vision, God appeared to Abraham and walked through this dissected animal alone. In other words, God said, “If either one of us breaks the covenant, may this be done to me.”

Eventually, God renewed this covenant relationship through Moses (the 10 Commandments and all the extra details), and gave his people an incredible amount of instruction on the kind of life that pleases God.

So all the Israelites were now in a covenant with God – they occasionally re-read the Law publicly and reaffirmed that yes indeed, this was the plan. This covenant was a little different in that there were some conditions: if they did good, they would be blessed. If they did bad, they would not. This led to trouble, because the Jewish people were terrible at keeping the Law.  

God initiated a temporary substitute through the sacrificial system, but they had to keep repeating this (for good reason.) It didn’t matter how much or how often the rabbis added more and more laws to try to make sure they could live perfectly. They couldn’t. If anything, the more detailed they got, the more it became clear how far they were from holy.

To make it worse, the cause-and-effect penalties of their sin caught up with them. The conditions of the covenant had to be honored and they were. The wages of their sin were conquest and enslavement. One Old Testament prophet recorded that they sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept as they remembered what they have lost – and what they could have.

They longed for a Messiah, a deliverer, and bringer of hope and peace. It appeared that these people - who were supposed to be the means by which God blessed the world -  had sold their spiritual birthright in exchange for their sin. They had failed to live up to God’s standards even when God had made them clear through Moses.

Now they were scattered, dying, convinced God has abandoned them.

But God had not.

God did bless the world through Abraham’s descendants – but not in a nationalistic sense like the Israelites expected. It was through the lineage of the Jewish people  that Jesus was born. That was the plan all along.

Enter Jesus, God in the flesh, sent to earth to fulfill the demands that God made on himself in his covenant with Abraham. God did not break the covenant; Abraham did. Yet God would pay the price for that sin by taking upon himself the penalty. He would be killed. He would also offer one sacrifice once and for all to fulfill the obligation of the sacrificial system under the law of Moses. On the cross, Jesus was torn for the sins not just of the Israelites, but of the world. Jesus satisfied the requirements of both those covenants while establishing a new one, one that all of us can be a part of.

Why is this important? Because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Without Jesus, we are dead in our sins. Our peace with God is broken, and without Jesus there is nothing between us and His wrath. No matter how good we think we are, we have shaken our fist at the heavens and said, “Not your will, but mine be done” over and over again.

But on the cross, the justice and mercy of God meet. God initiates a covenant fulfillment with us even before we are aware of the need for it. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our war with God can end, and we can be at peace with Him. Our sin does not have to condemn us or separate us from God.

We can be forgiven, loved, embraced, even adopted into God’s family so that we are called ‘children of God.’ We are offered forgiveness and hope in this life and an eternity of joy in the presence of God in a New Heaven and New Earth, a reality in which, as Tim Keller says, all that is bad will be undone.

Peace Within

I mentioned a number of things earlier that rob us of peace within: depression, anxiety, shame. We could add anger, bitterness, jealousy, hopelessness, unforgiveness…

Some of those things can be caused by medical issues that a doctor can help (our biology is fallen too). Some of those things we can bring on ourselves because of our sinful choices. Some of things can arise because of sin that has been done to us. I believe the presence of Jesus gives us hope in the midst of all of those things, but there is one primary reason Jesus died and rose again when it comes to peace within. That is to address our guilt and shame for our sin.

Here’s the reality.

On this side of heaven, I will sin because I am not perfect. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of God’s word and the community of God’s people, I will be remarkably better than I would be without those things. God miraculously frees us from the overwhelming power of sin. Because of Jesus, I am not doomed to be chained by the power of sin. However, the cross and the empty tomb don’t remove the presence of sin. Not yet. I am no longer enslaved to sin, but I can still choose it.

And I do. I’m not perfect. Ask anybody. Neither are you. If you aren’t sure if that’s the case, ask your family. They will fill you in. So what do I do with that?

I could become consumed with perfection and working on my own power – and run myself into the ground trying to achieve the impossible. Then, I will become either insufferably arrogant the more I am successful or sadly self-loathing the more I fail. That’s the kind of righteousness the Bible says is filthy rags. It’s gross. Self-righteousness is not pretty.

Or I can turn to Jesus, the “author and finisher of my faith,” who sees me in my imperfect sinfulness and loves me anyway – and that love includes not letting me stay where I am, but changing and renewing me so that I increasingly become like Jesus. 

Because I have Jesus, I will have a strength I would never have on my own. In my times of doing good, I am driven to worship God, not my own willpower and work, so I avoid arrogance. In my times of failure, I am driven to throw myself at the mercy of a God who is faithful even when I am faithless, and that reminder of the love and tenderness of Jesus moves me out of my self-loathing as I remember that that Jesus knows and loves me, gave His life for me, and is transforming me into His image.

With Others

This changes everything is our relationships. The more we understand how the love of Jesus brought about peace with God, the more determined we will be to pass on that love. And when we see how his death and resurrection show His love – truly see it – we will love Him in return, and it will change us.

What kind of love is that? A radical, self-sacrificing commitment to the good of those around me. It’s what the Bible calls agape love. Jesus died so that I could live; why would I not in some way choose to ‘die’ to myself so that those around me can live? It’s how I honor my Lord. It’s how I pass on the legacy of Jesus.

 In some ways we commemorate this during communion: “This is my body which was broken for you …do this in remembrance.” We can’t die and bring salvation for our sins or the sins of others – we must have Jesus for that. But we can honor what Jesus has done by being broken and spilled out as we show the love of Jesus.

 As followers of Jesus, we ‘die’ to jealousy, envy, anger, pettiness, meanness, pride, selfishness. The Bible insists that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, that we climb up on the altar and sacrifice everything in us that needs to die. We could never do this on our own power, but we are not alone. We have God’s spirit inside us, his Word in front of us, and His people around us.

 We can do this, because God is with us.

 This is the peace the Resurrected Lord offers to us.

  • Through Jesus, our relationship with God can been repaired so that we are no longer rebels. We are servants, friends, children, kings, priests. As a church we are the bride of Christ, and the bride will be made glorious in preparation for the glorious return of Jesus.
  • Through Jesus, our peace within can be restored as we surrender and then commit our lives to the love and grace of a Risen Savior who is greater than all of our sins. We do not have to live in shame and fear; we can be transparent, bold and loved.
  • Through Jesus, our peace with others flows from this reality. We will want to go into all the world and preach the gospel and make disciples. We will  want everyone so see how the love of a Risen Savior transforms our lives, not for our glory but for the glory of the One who makes this possible.

Faith, Frailty and Miracles (John 4:46-54; John 5:1-17)

John 4:46-54 As Jesus traveled to Cana (the village in Galilee where He transformed the water into fine wine), He was met by a government official from Herod’s court. This man had heard a rumor that Jesus had left Judea and was heading to Galilee, and he came in desperation begging for Jesus’ help because his young son was near death. He was fearful that unless Jesus would go with him to Capernaum, his son would have no hope.

Jesus said, ”My word is not enough; you people only believe when you see miraculous signs and wonder.”

The official replied, “Sir, this is my son; please come with me before he dies.”

Jesus said, Go home. Your son will live.”

He believed and returned to his home. Before he reached his village, his servants met him on the road celebrating his son’s miraculous recovery.

The official asked, “What time did this happen?”

His servants replied, “Yesterday about one o’clock in the afternoon.”

At that moment, it dawned on the father the exact time that Jesus spoke the words, “He will live.” After that, he believed; and when he told his family about his amazing encounter with this Jesus, they believed too. This was the second sign Jesus performed when He came back to Galilee from Judea.

JOHN 5:1-17

When these events were completed, Jesus led His followers to Jerusalem where they would celebrate a Jewish feast together. In Jerusalem they came upon a pool by the sheep gate surrounded by five covered porches. In Hebrew this place is called Bethesda.

 Crowds of people lined the area, lying around the porches. All of these people were disabled in some way; some were blind, lame, paralyzed, or plagued by diseases; and they were waiting for the waters to move. The people believed that from time to time, a heavenly messenger would come to stir the water in the pool, and whoever reached the water first and got in after it was agitated would be healed of his or her disease. In the crowd, Jesus noticed one particular man who had been living with his disability for 38 years. He knew this man had been waiting here a long time.

 Jesus said to the disabled man, “Do you want to be healed?”

The man replied, “Kind Sir, I wait, like all of these people, for the waters to stir; but I cannot walk. If I am to be healed in the waters, someone must carry me into the pool. Without a helping hand, someone else beats me to the water’s edge each time it is stirred.”

Jesus replied, “Stand up, carry your mat, and walk. ”At the moment Jesus uttered these words, the man was healed—he stood and walked for the first time in 38 years. But this was the Sabbath Day; and any work, including carrying a mat, was prohibited on this day.

The Jewish Leaders said to the man who had been healed, “Must you be reminded that it is the Sabbath? You are not allowed to carry your mat today!”

The formerly disabled man replied, “The man who healed me gave me specific instructions to carry my mat and go.”

Who is the man who gave you these instructions?” The Jewish leaders asked, “How can we identify Him?”

The man genuinely did not know who it was that healed him. In the midst of the crowd and the excitement of his renewed health, Jesus had slipped away. Some time later, Jesus found him in the temple and again spoke to him. ”Take a look at your body; it has been made whole and strong. So avoid a life of sin, so that nothing worse will happen to you.” The man went immediately to tell the Jewish leaders that Jesus was the mysterious healer. So they began pursuing and attacking Jesus because He performed these miracles on the Sabbath.

 But Jesus said to them, “My Father is at work. So I, too, am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

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Though the primary reason of these miracles is to establish Jesus' divinity (more on that next Sunday), there are three secondary topics here that I want to address:

  • How Jesus works in the world in the midst of our faith and frailty.
  • The importance of the question, “Do you want to be healed?”
  • How our lives can point toward the awesome work of Jesus

I think you will find that I’m only scratching the surface, and I encourage you to read, pray, and meditate on this passage on your own.[1]

1. Jesus responds to both our faith and our frailty

The royal official sought Jesus and asked for his help. When Jesus told him that his son would be okay, the official believed; specifically, he ‘trusted in Jesus to aid in obtaining or doing something.’ He had faith in Jesus’ power, which was at least a start. After he found out about his son’s healing, he began to embrace what Scott Norris called a ‘full-body faith.” He went from believing in Jesus as healer to believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The lame man didn’t even know who Jesus was. This man made no cry for help. He didn't grab Jesus and say, "Son of David, have mercy on me." When Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed, he basically dodged the question (more on that later). The text doesn't record that he ever worshipped Jesus as a result of being healed, yet Jesus healed him and encouraged him.

Though the city official exercised a form of belief, neither man was what we would call “saved” when Jesus performed miracles on their behalf. We could even include the Samaritan woman (whom we read about earlier in chapter four) in this discussion. She was worshipping idols when Jesus encountered her, yet he saved her and her village.

There is a perspective in Christian circles that we must reach a certain threshold of faith before God can move. The Bible is clear that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11). But these miracles show that God seeks and even helps those whose faith is not full (the city official) or strong (the lame man).

I hope this brings us all great hope. If you wonder if you have enough faith for God to act on your behalf, take heart. Don’t assume that God has given up on you. Pray; ask God for move and work in you to build your faith, but don’t forget - God moves in in our faith and in our frailty. He brings us life and hope not because we are strong, but because He is.

2. “Do you want to get well?” is a question we must all answer

So, Jesus moves in our faith and in our frailty, but if we want God's miraculous intervention in our lives to deepen our spiritual maturity and bear long-term fruit, we must want to be healed. Let me explain.

The Bible does not unpack the lame man’s personality, though there are hints in the story. There are differences of opinion about how to view the lame man, but I side with the majority of commentators:  I believe Jesus chose to heal a man who  lacked faith (the Bible never records that he became a follower of Jesus) and whose life on the margins of society was probably compounded by his poor choices. I will give you several reasons.

  • Most Jews associated sickness with sin. The rabbis said, "The sick arises not from sickness, until his sins be forgiven." (Later, when Jesus heals a blind man, he makes clear that this one-for-one correlation is not true, though he seems to allow that it is true in this case).
  • When Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed, the lame man dodged the question. He didn’t say ‘yes’. He basically responded, “I don’t have any friends.” After decades of being lame, he had no family or friends who cared enough to get him to the front of the line. That seems like no small matter.
  • Interestingly, he was probably taken care of decently by the Jewish community – which might actually explain his apparent unpopularity. A story in the Talmud gives us some insight[2]"A beggar once came to Rava who asked him 'What do your meals usually consist of?' 'Plump chicken and matured wine' answered the beggar. 'Do you not consider this a burden on the community?' asked Rava. The beggar retorted: 'I do not take from them – I take what God provides.' At that moment Rava's sister, who had not seen him for 13 years, appeared bringing him a fat chicken and matured wine. 'Just what I told you!' said the beggar."

That story is one of many in Jewish literature that captures some of the tension in the Jewish community: God commanded them to take care of the poor and lame, but they sometimes took care of them so well that it was advantageous to be poor or lame, and the broader community became resentful.

James Baldwin wrote, “Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch.” Why? Because with great healing comes great responsibility (sorry, Spider-Man.).

  • If he became well, the community provision would go away.
  • If he got well, he couldn’t complain about his circumstances.
  • He couldn’t blame those who didn’t care enough to help him into the water.
  • He may need to address sin in his life.[3]

Jesus’ question is loaded with insight into human nature - which makes sense, since He created us as image bearers. And because He knows us, he knows that  if we aren’t careful, we can begin to love our sickness.

  • Have you ever avoided doing something you didn’t want to by stretching that cold or flu out one more day?
  • Have you ever used a stressful day at work to get out of some chore at home that you could have done, or to excuse grumpiness or laziness?
  • Have you ever used something from your past as a crutch, a way to justify something you are doing now that you know you should change? (“I know I’m really fixated on money and things, but I grew up poor!”)
  • I already find that “I had a heart attack” is a really easy way to not do something I could do because everybody will give me the space.

If we are not careful, our physical, spiritual, or emotional illnesses can give us a reason to blame others, to think God owes us something, or to avoid responsibility. I am not saying we automatically do that; I’m saying we have to be careful. Sometimes, we don’t really want to get well because we can leverage our inability to our favor.  Surrendering to the lordship of Christ will involve taking ownership of your life.

If you have ever been in a recovery group or know someone who has, you know this principle to be true. Individuals must want to be clean and sober; if they are forced into it, they almost inevitably revert. They did not want to be healed.

Now let's take this principle to a deeper level. If Jesus really was pointing out the connection between the man’s health and his sin, he is offering an observation that is of eternal importance: some people love their sin so much that they would rather remain spiritually sick then be made well. They might not like what they reap, but they don’t want to stop sowing. They want to be healthy, but they don’t want to be well.

“Do you want to get well?” is a question that must be answered honestly.

  • Do you want your marriage to be better even if that means you have to address the dysfunction that you bring to it?
  • Do you want your addictions to be gone even if it means rehab and accountability?
  • Do you want to fix your relationship with your kids (or parents) even if that means owning the damage you cause with your words and attitude?
  • Do you want to let go of that anger, that lust, that pride that has been such a close friend for so long?

Jesus healed the lame man, but the man turned around and reported him to a clearly hostile group of Pharisees. In addition, the Bible does not record that the man became a follower of Jesus after this miracle. Jesus healed a man who was lame of almost four decades, and there was no fruit. How is this possible? Because even though God moves in our faith and our frailty, we must want to be healed if we want God's miraculous intervention to make disciples of us.

3. God intends for our past to point others to Jesus.

Jesus told the lame man to pick up his bed and walk. What better conversation starter was there to point toward Jesus? I can see people who knew him saying, “What on earth happened? How is this possible?” It’s an almost guaranteed way for this formerly lame man to point to Jesus.

The lame man apparently did this, but I don’t think he did it in the way Jesus intended. That unnecessary bed was meant to be a sign pointing to Jesus, an opportunity for others to hear about what Jesus can do – and so point to the Jesus as Lord.

We don’t carry our beds, but we have equivalent opportunities. Karl did that last Sunday. He said, and I paraphrase, “I was a grease fire – and then Jesus.” That’s a powerful story. One of the best ways to point toward the awesome majesty of Jesus is to let people see what God has done in our lives. It’s one thing to say that Jesus saves and heals; it’s quite another to show that Jesus does these things.

  • People need to know that God can deliver from pornography – which might mean you have to tell them how he delivered you.
  • People need to know that God can heal people with destructive personalities and habits– which might mean that you have to tell them how God healed you.
  • People need to know that arrogant, judgmental fools can be refined and matured – which might mean you have to tell them how that happened in you.
  • People need to know that those who are spiritually dead in their sins - hurting those around them, imploding through bad choices, ignoring or shaking their fist at God – can be forgiven, restored, and transformed into the likeness of Christ. And that might mean you have to tell them about you.

An author named Asia Mouzone said, "Never silence your testimony. It's meant for someone else; not you." God intends for our past to point toward Jesus. ‘Believing’ and ‘trusting’ includes surrendering our shame, our guilt, our pride. We are meant to take up the beds to which our brokenness had condemned us and carry it with us to a world that needs to see that Jesus saves.

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[1] This passage occurs in a broader context. The gospel of John is famous for Jesus’ Seven Miracles. They progress in interesting ways:

  • Water to wine – Jesus shows the power to change elements, and he only reveals this to his mother and servants, two classes of people looked down upon in Jewish culture.
  • Healing the official’s son – Jesus shows power over temporary sickness as well as distance (he doesn’t have to go to the man’s house). This miracle was shown to a Gentile from Herod’s court, one of the oppressors of God’s people.
  • Healing the paralytic – Jesus shows power over long-term sickness as well as his power over the Law. This third miracle is done once again for one of the culturally marginalized.
  • Feeding the 5,000 – Jesus shows power not only to multiply elements rather than just change them , perhaps linking him to God’s provision during the Exodus. This is his first very public miracle, shown to thousands.
  • Walking on water – Jesus shows his power over elements once again, perhaps as another purposeful connection with God as revealed in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God moved over the water in Genesis 1; now John, who made a clear connection to Genesis in the beginning of his book, records the Word of God moving over the water.
  • Healing the man born blind – Jesus shows he has the power of creation; he doesn’t just heal eyes that had once been good and then gone bad, he creates working eyes where there had been none.
  • Raising Lazarus – Jesus shows his power over physical death, which establishes his power over spiritual death (John 11:25-26)

[2] “Begging and Beggars,” http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0003_0_02291.html

[3] Commentators have different opinions on this. That his particular sickness had been caused by his particular sin seems to be implied by the text. However, Jesus may be telling him that if he thought being physically sick was bad, it was nothing compared to being spiritually sick and going to hell. Or perhaps Jesus was taking the opportunity to remind him of both.

Jesus is God (John 1)

(This sermon was given by Scott Smith) Anyone interested in history or biographies? Would you like to hear some inside info about WW1, or all of Edison’s failed inventions? Would you still be interested if I said all this was not based on any study or research, but based on my own first-hand knowledge of what happened - would you still trust me? What if I said I had first-hand knowledge of Jesus?

If you’ve read articles or watched exposés on “The Lost Gospels”[1] and their portrayal of Jesus, you get a  few general truths and a healthy dose of fantasy invented by people with fertile imaginations. If you really want the inside scoop about Jesus’ earthly ministry, his true identity, and his heavenly purpose, you have to listen to someone who was actually there. John, the apostle of Jesus was there.

John wrote John

Sometimes people will say that Christianity was a made-up conspiracy. I have to wonder what the apostles got out of the deal, since all were beaten and imprisoned multiple times, and most of them killed!

John definitely wasn’t in it for the fame. How do I know? Because he didn’t even tell us that he wrote the book! He did not write “The Gospel According to John” on the cover. He never said “I’m John and these are my words” in the text like many others did. However, this book contains things only someone very close to Jesus would know. And there are good reasons to rule out all of Jesus’ inner circle except for John[2].

It’s interesting to note that although John doesn’t say his own name, the name “John” is in the text. It’s good to keep in mind that it is almost always[3] a reference to John the Baptist. When John the apostle referred to himself he would usually use a phrase like “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.

John is Well Attested

Of all[4] the New Testament manuscripts[5] we have[6], more are of John’s gospel than any other book. And many of the oldest[7] examples are from John’s gospel[8]. If anyone tells you that John is a forgery, or that it was edited, they simply do not have the facts. If this book is not trustworthy, then we’ve lost most of history[9].

John had an Agenda

John did not merely report the facts. He also included what he believed about the facts. In addition, he told us what to believe, and what to do. This was not a casual informational piece.

For instance, he did not simply tell us details about Jesus’ life and leave us to draw personal conclusions. Far from it. John would relate something Jesus said or did, then say the unmistakable conclusion is that Jesus is God, and therefore you and I must obey him. The gospel of John is not dispassionate reporting – the gospel of John is a call to repentance.

The Message of John

John’s gospel is not like the other three gospels[10]. He doesn’t tell us about the prophecies, the shepherds, or Mary and Joseph finding no room in the inn. In fact, Jesus’ birth is not even mentioned! John doesn’t contain a single parable, and he mentions relatively few miracles. Maybe he didn’t think those details were that interesting. Maybe he thought the other three already covered all those details well enough.

John just jumps right in the deep end: who was Jesus and why did he come? The answer is repeated many ways throughout the book. The short answer is that Jesus was God, and the only way to experience abundant (or eternal) life was through him.

John wrote his gospel late in life. He had plenty of time to mull over the things he had seen and heard from his savior. Rather than the “just the facts ma’am” approach that the first reporter on the scene often takes, John took the longer view – the deeper view. I’m sure he had thought long about the implications of Jesus’ life and death. He had preached countless times, been imprisoned, beaten, and more. He had planted churches and trained the next generation. He had heard and answered all the questions. John wrote his gospel with the wisdom, temperament, and sober-mindedness that only comes with age. He wrote a gospel that communicated the good news of Jesus Christ coming to save us from our sins, and presented it as a theological work to be contended with. Because of this, those of us speaking in this series have our work cut out for us.

People have dissected John’s gospel a number of ways. I’m going to look at two primary focuses of John: The person of Christ and The Importance of Belief. I’m sure we’ll come back to these in the coming months, so I’ll just lay it out briefly this morning.

The Importance of Belief

John’s gospel uses the word “believe” far more than any other book in the bible. He ties everything to the importance of belief. This “belief” he talks about is something worth exploring. We’re not talking simply about awareness of a truth or acceptance of a fact. Those must be in place, to be sure - but that’s not enough. The word belief here comes from the same Greek word[11] that is also often translated as faith. This Greek word has both a noun and verb form. English doesn’t have a verb form of the word “faith”, so the translators use the word “believe” when it’s an action. (Compare to love/love, patient/patience, compassionate/compassion.)

Let’s talk about that word for faith/believe for a moment. When you see these words in scripture, it might be helpful to substitute trust(trust), reliance(rely), or dependence(depend). That’s what biblical faith is, after all. So when we see John or Jesus talking about belief, they aren’t looking for us to merely agree with what they’re saying. They are talking about placing our trust in Christ, about relying on him so much that we’re holding nothing back, and about a dependence that proves we’ve given up control.

This might be a helpful phrase: Profession of faith is not the same as possession of faith.

There is no such thing as being “sort of Christian”. Either your belief affects your life or it does not. Imagine someone claiming to be “pro-life” who shrugged off abortions. Or an environmentalist who doesn’t think twice about littering. Or a health nut who lives at McDonalds. These things just don’t make sense. They make as much sense as a Christian whose way of thinking and living is not radically changed. Here’s just a brief survey of the topic of belief in the book of John:

  • (ch 1) John the Baptist came to bear witness about Jesus, that all might believe
  • (ch 1) All who believed Jesus received the right to be called children of God
  • (ch 2) The disciples heard Jesus’ words and saw his miracles and it caused them to believe
  • (ch 2) The Jews asked Jesus, “what signs will you show us to make us believe?”
  • (ch 3) Whoever believes in Jesus will not be condemned but will have eternal life.
  • (ch 4) The woman at the well heard Jesus and believed. The people she told also believed.
  • (ch 4) The official at Capernaum believed because Jesus healed his son
  • (ch 5) “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.”
  • (ch 6) Jesus says in order to please God they must believe in Jesus.
  • (ch 6) Again, the Jews asked Jesus, “what signs will you show us to make us believe?”
  • (ch 6) Jesus says whoever comes to him and believes will never hunger or thirst again.
  • (ch 6) Even so, most Jews did not believe
  • (ch 7) Not even Jesus’ own brothers believed in him
  • (ch 7) Jesus said anyone who believed in him would receive the Holy Spirit after Jesus left
  • (ch 8) Jesus said unless you believe you will die in your sins.
  • (ch 8) He said if we believe and abide in his word, we are truly his disciples.
  • (ch 9) Jesus heals a blind man. The Pharisees didn’t believe he had been healed. Then they didn’t believe he was ever blind to begin with. The man found Jesus who had healed him and believed and worshiped him.
  • (ch 10) Jesus says his sheep hear his voice and believe, but those who are not his do not believe
  • (ch 11) Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life – whoever believes in him will live forever.
  • (ch 11) Martha says she believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God
  • (ch 11) Many who saw Jesus raise Lazarus believed in him.
  • (ch 11) The Chief Priests and the Pharisees become concerned that if they don’t do something, everyone will believe in Jesus and they will lose their power.
  • (ch 13) Jesus predicts his own betrayal as evidence so that they will believe
  • (ch 14) Jesus tells the disciples to believe in him because of his union with the Father, and offers more predictions of the future that they might believe in his authority
  • (ch 14) The disciples believe that Jesus came from God
  • (ch 17) Jesus thanks the Father for those who had believed, and those who would believe in the future
  • (ch 19) John relates the details of the crucifixion in order that those reading might believe
  • (ch 20) Peter and John ran to see Jesus’ tomb empty, and believed he had risen
  • (ch 20) Thomas says he won’t believe unless he sees and touches Jesus. After he does so, he believes.
  • (ch 20) Thesis of John’s book: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John also points out that false belief is a problem. Jesus did many miracles in order to give evidence of his power and therefore show that he came from God. However, Jesus made it clear that belief by itself was insufficient. Consider: Demons believe there is a God[12], and believe Jesus is God[13], and that fact does them no good. There must be genuine faith. Jesus was not looking for people to follow him around as a sideshow. Believing in Christ means to believe he is who he said he was, and to do what he said to do. Those were the things that necessarily followed from a genuine and transforming belief. Jesus was not at all interested in people who liked to see tricks.

A few examples of what John records about false belief:

  • (ch 2) Many believed in Jesus when they saw his miraculous signs, but he did not entrust himself to them because he knew what was in a man.
  • (ch 6) Before preaching, Jesus feeds 5000 people from virtually nothing. Then he began to teach. Upon hearing some difficult words, these people who had just had their bellies miraculously filled turned and walked away. What?!
  • (ch 8) Jesus told the Jews who had just “believed in him”, if you continue in my word then you are my disciples. Meaning, the belief alone didn’t cut it. Evidence of belief is obedience. That is the mark of a real disciple.
  • (ch 12) In the aftermath of Lazarus being raised from the dead, many authorities even believed in Jesus. But because they were afraid of being on the outs with the Pharisees, they did not believe publicly. They valued the glory of man over the glory of God. This sort of “private Christianity” is very common today. If this describes you, I’d encourage you to spend some time thinking about your faith. Are you concerned about what those in public will think? Jesus tells us in Matthew 10 that those who deny him should count on Jesus returning the favor. If you hide your faith in Christ from others, scripture gives us good reason to think that you won’t receive the eternal life that you’re counting on.
  • (ch 15) Jesus is the true vine, and we are his branches. God the Father is the vinedresser, examining the health of the entire vine. Branches that do not abide in the vine, or those that do not bear fruit will be pruned away. Judas is the best example of this. Regardless what he or those around him thought, he was never part of the true vine. He may have appeared to be, and he might have even fooled himself at times because of the things he saw and believed. But because he did not persist in the faith, his confidence was misplaced and it cost him his soul. Be very sober-minded about this. Absolutely believe in Christ’s authority because of his miracles. But prove that you understand what that authority means. There is no such thing as making Jesus your savior and not your Lord. Believe, confess, and endure. Work out your salvation as you strain towards your eternal goal.

The Person of Christ

So by now you should have a decent idea what Jesus and John wanted us to believe. It had everything to do with the identity of Jesus, and the implications that came from his identity.

Historically, some have proposed that Jesus didn’t exist at all, that he was an apparition, that he was a prophet, a lunatic, a revolutionary… In fact, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that everyone wants Jesus on their team. Liberal denominations will say Jesus wants them to recycle and endorse homosexuality. Oprah Winfrey talks regularly about Jesus, but admits there are other ways to God. Muslims claim Jesus was a prophet. Mormons say Jesus worked his way up from man to God.

So the big question here is … Who is Jesus?

John has no confusion whatsoever. John is crystal clear that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Holy One sent from God, indeed he was God himself. The answer to Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” is what theologians refer to as Christology. John had a remarkably high Christology. You cannot read the book of John and walk away thinking that perhaps John believed Jesus to be merely a political leader. You won’t walk away without the clear message that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. This is High Christology.

And Now for My Text: John 1

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)

Oops. My mistake. Wait – that’s exactly what John wanted us to do. He started his gospel the same way Moses started his first book, by introducing the main player in the narrative: God. His readers would not have missed this. John was the type of writer to tease his audience with clues and misdirection until the big reveal. He starts his book with a shot right between the eyes: Jesus is God.

The opening of John is a theologically dense statement that we need to unpack a bit in the time we have left.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known. - (John 1:1-18, ESV)

Let’s break it down into some more manageable chunks:

“In the beginning” – Not just recorded time, but time itself. (i.e., “When time itself began…”)

“was” – We’re not talking about something at the beginning. We’re talking about something that preceded the beginning. (Who/what can possibly exist outside of time?)

“the Word” – Think back to Genesis 1. God created by speaking. But The Word from God was not mere sounds – it was an agent. A being. A personal being who brings God the Father’s plan into existence. That is what The Word has always done. Also - up until Christ, God’s word had been written down. It was a thing. A container of information. Now John reveals that the word is all that, but The Word is also a person. The Word is alive – the text through which God spoke, and the person through whom God speaks. Prophets before had quoted the word saying, “thus saith the Lord”. Now, the one who is The Word would say “you have heard it said … but I say”. No more “thus saith the Lord”. No more explanation. No more credentials. Just, “but I say”. Only one being has the clout to speak without the need for someone greater to vouch for him. The Word, whether in scripture or in Christ, reveals the mind of the Father.

the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – There is only one way to unravel this riddle. If the Word was God and also was with God, then there must be some sort of plurality in God. John is alluding to the trinity. This is Trinitarian language. The Father is God, and always has been. The Word is God, and always has been. Neither of them ever came to be. They just are[14].

REVIEW: In verse one alone, we have established that Jesus is God, he is eternal, and we’ve started laying down theology for the Trinity.

The following verses simply restate these truths. (Vs 2 reiterates Jesus’ eternity; Vs 3 & 4 reiterate Jesus’ divinity.)

Vs 5 – Just as physical light dispels darkness, the metaphorical “light” of Christ dispels spiritual darkness, moral murkiness, philosophical conundrums, mysteries of science and all other darkness. Jesus’ light would bring clarity, reconciliation, healing, and forgiveness. His light would stand alone. It would also be this light that his followers would reflect, however dimly, to point a dying world to the source of light.

In these opening five verses, John repeatedly reinforces that Jesus is God himself.

Vs 6-8 – John introduces another John. If you’re not paying attention, it would be easy to think John was speaking of himself. In fact, he was describing John the Baptist as one sent by God for the purpose of preparing the way for Jesus. That John did not talk about himself, but only about the one who would come.

Vs 9 – John said that this one that the Baptizer spoke of was Jesus, the light of the world. This Jesus, The Word, the light, was already in the world, but the world didn’t even know it.

Vs 10 – Not even Jesus’ own people – the people to whom the word had been given; the people who knew that a Messiah was to come – not even these people recognized him.

Vs 11 – Anyone who did receive Jesus (trusted in him, relied upon him, believed in him, found their identity in him) – these were the ones who were his. They were not his based on their bloodline or anything that they did, but only because God regenerated them and made them his.

“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – The eternal God stepped into time. The immaterial became material. The limitless took on our limitations. The light that John the Baptizer had spoken of stepped into our darkness. The creator entered his creation without fanfare or ceremony. He came humbly and was treated shamefully.

“grace upon grace” – We treat him poorly, yet he blesses us. Salvation is a free gift from God. We are so inferior to God and so undeserving of him, the only way to express the reconciliation he brings between God and man is grace upon grace upon grace upon graceWe have earned nothing. God extends to us his grace. That is our only hope.

“law, grace and truth” – God is eternally just. His laws revealed to Moses were just. God is eternally gracious and truthful. His grace and truth existed when he revealed the law to Moses, because God is unchanging. However, his grace and truth had not been fully revealed until the coming of Christ.

Vs 18 – No one has ever seen God. By definition, God is immaterial. By definition, the immaterial and invisible cannot be seen. Throughout history, God has revealed aspects of his character and nature through things that were visible, so that we could understand in some small degree. Not until Christ did this revelation have any fullness. The pillars of fire and smoke gave the Israelites something to follow, but that’s all. God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, but there was nothing else God-like about that bush. God appeared as messenger in human form, but revealed only his message. He spoke through prophets, but the prophets were merely men. Not until Jesus was any revelation of God truly God. All of God’s attributes, the fullness of his character, the depth of his true nature – all in Christ.

Review: In these first 18 verses we have enough to refute most of the major heresies that sprung up in the early centuries of the church and culture:

  • There is a God. (atheism)
  • There is one God. (polytheism)
  • God is not a single person. (modalism)
  • Jesus is divine. (Arianism)

The gospel of John is not just a historical account, though it is definitely that. The gospel of John is also a powerful work of theology that demands a response. We cannot view this simply as a nice story of a good man that died because he loved us. We must also see this as the systematic explanation of God’s rescue plan for the damned. John pleads with us to “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Closing

In the coming months, you will hear a number of messages focusing on many aspects of Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Be on the lookout for who the text says that Jesus is. Be aware of what is said about those who believe and those who reject the message. Be especially aware when you hear the warnings given to those who seek after Jesus because they like his benefits. Jesus can heal. He can work miracles. He can make your situation on earth better. But that is no guarantee that he will. And whether he does or not, be certain that you are sincerely seeking after the true Christ and not a circus performer. Don’t chase signs and flashy miracles. Chase Jesus, Son of God, who is the eternal God himself, the one who holds eternal life in his hand and offers it to you as a free gift. Seek him not through conventions, magazines, and movements, but seek him through saving faith, repentance, and his revelation in his word.

________________________________________

[1] For instance, that of Thomas, or Judas, or Peter, or Mary, or James…

[2] Great circumstantial case for John’s authorship built by Max Andrews here: http://sententias.org/2013/01/19/gospel-of-john/

[3] Four times the phrase “Simon, son of John” is used. All other references to John are to the baptizer.

[4] Over 5,800 in the original language (Greek), ±25,000 total

[5] I’m referring to only to ancient, hand-written documents

[6] https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2012/03/21/an-interview-with-daniel-b-wallace-on-the-new-testament-manuscripts/

[7] The oldest manuscript currently made public is called Rylands papyrus P52, containing portions of John 18

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_manuscript#Dating_the_New_Testament_manuscripts

[9] https://visualunit.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/nt_reliability1.jpg

[10]Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called “synoptic” gospels because those three present a similar overview (synopsis) of Jesus’ life.

[11] Greek pisteúō (Strongs G4100)

[12] James 2:19

[13] Matthew 8:29

[14] Hint: This is why God called himself “I Am” in the Old Testament, and it is also why Jesus called himself “I Am” in the New Testament.

Jesus (Pillars of Faith Series)

“We believe in the historical reality of Jesus Christ as the only incarnation of God. We believe in His deity, His virgin birth (Matthew 1:18-23), His sinless life  (Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22), His miracles (Acts 2:22; Acts 10:38), His substitutionary death (1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21), His bodily resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:6; Luke 24:39; 1 Corinthians 15:4), His ascension to the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:9; Acts 1:11; Acts 2:33; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:3), His intercession for the sins of His people (1 Timothy 2:5-6), and His future personal return in power and glory (Acts 1:10-11).”

We believe in the historical reality of Jesus Christ as the only incarnation of God. We believe in His deity. Jesus is unique. No one else in human history was, is, or will be like him. The miracle of the incarnation is that Jesus remained fully God while he participated fully in human life as a man. We see ways in which God made himself visible and known in the Old Testament, but only once did he incarnate (become human). Jesus was not simply an enlightened being (Buddhism), he was not just one of thousands of gods (Hinduism). He was not simply a prophet (Islam). He was not the kind of being that we can one day become (Mormonism).

His virgin birth (Matthew 1:18-23). If you are wanting a scientific explanation as to how this happened, I have none to offer. It’s a miracle, which simply means God accomplished something supernaturally that would not have happened naturally. We don’t claim God had sex with Mary, like the Greeks and Romans would have assumed a god would do. In a way that honored Mary’s purity, heaven and earth became one in the person of Jesus Christ.

His sinless life (Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22).  He was tempted as a man (so Jesus is what we often call “a sympathetic advocate” on our behalf when we pray for forgiveness for our sin), but he resisted as God. He understood the power of temptation but never compromised his perfection and holiness. When it is time for you to give an answer for your life to God, if you have accepted the lordship of Jesus in your life, a sinless Christ will stand in your place and say, “He or she is with me.” The perfection of Christ will be granted to you – not because you earned it, but because you committed your life to the One who did.

His miracles (Acts 2:22; Acts 10:38).  It’s what we expect of divinity. The Creator moves in the creation. God set up what we now call ‘laws’ to give an order, structure, coherence and predictability to the physical world. #science. But God’s not bound by them. God interjects Himself into the system God created, and the system responds like God created it to respond. So, yeah, there are a lot of miracles. If God exists, it goes with the territory. If Jesus was God, he can do them too.

C.S. Lewis compared God’s miraculous intervention in the world to the way events are influenced inside a fishbowl. If someone bumps a table supporting a fishbowl, the pebbles will shake and the water will ripple.  If the fish are committed to seeking an explanation only inside the fishbowl, because they do not believe anything exists outside the fishbowl, they will never find an adequate explanation for what happened.  Maybe they think believing otherwise allows for a “God” who violates the laws of the nature in the fishbowl.  But if the fishbowl hadn’t been effected, laws governing all of reality, not just the reality of the fishbowl, would have broken.  In other words, an orderly and predictable world absorbs and reacts to miracles.  Not responding would actually be the problem.

His substitutionary death (1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21) and His bodily resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:6; Luke 24:39; 1 Corinthians 15:4). A just God demands justice; a merciful God provides a way out.  Jesus’ death cancelled the obligation for us to pay the ultimate penalty for our own sin. He paid what we could not. Justice is an important thing, but it’s not the only thing. And in a cosmic turn of events that no other religion even remotely claims – God so loves the world that He absorbs His own righteous demand for justice so that the people he loves can experience his mercy (more in this in a couple weeks…the concept of covenant is crucial here).

  • Our sin breaks God’s just law (think back to an analogy everyone in the Ancient Near East and in the Jewish and Roman culture of the first century would have understood: living in a Kingdom with a King. Law-breaking is a treasonous dishonoring of the Lawgiver, the King)
  • God’s justice demands that the price of this treasonous sin be paid, and the price is death.
  • If the price is paid, the offender will be forgiven – but of course, it will be too late.
  • However, as an act of mercy, the offender can be forgiven and live if the price is paid by a substitute. (In the Old Testament, we see the concept enacted in the scapegoat as well as the many ways in which substitutionary acts could pay the penalty of breaking the Mosaic law)
  • If the one who offers to pay the debt of the sinner is also sinful, they will merely be paying their own sinful debt, the one for whom they are giving their life will not benefit. 
  • Therefore, the only answer is a sinless person, who is provided by the King – Himself, in the person of the sinless Christ.
  • The price is paid on behalf of the sinner, who is forgiven, set free and given new life – as an adopted child of the King.

His ascension to the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:9; Acts 1:11; Acts 2:33; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:3) and his intercession for the sins of His people (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  

If His death shows us the lengths to which he was willing to go to save us, then His resurrection shows us the power he has to do it. His resurrection means life is possible for us “though we were dead in our sins.” Because He suffered, died, and rose from the dead, we can be raised from spiritual death in this life, and ultimately be raised to an entirely new life with Christ for eternity.

“The right hand” imagery is a picture of power. Jesus did not rise in broken weakness after a crucifixion. Hebrews 2:10 says Jesus’ glory was consummated or perfected in His suffering. If you thought he was awesome before, you should have seen him after His resurrection (this is anthropomorphic language…it’s an image…biblical writers are doing their best to describe a God whose glory just gets more stunning the more we understand him).

His intercession….

Let’s be honest. We are prone to point, especially when the sin of others is easy to see, and especially when it lets us channel our anger or grief at sin to other people.  We often see what these ‘pointable sins’ are when something bad happens and we say, “Well, God is judging America because of (and let’s be honest about the Big Four) sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion, and homosexuality.”  You know what's missing from that list? Everything else that the Bible identifies as sin, especially the ones that we don’t want to point out in ourselves.

  • Pride (I’m just better)
  • Lust (I want that… a lot…)
  • Anger (inappropriate and impactful)
  • Theft (from money to online piracy to time to virtue/innocence)
  • Deceit (covering up truth that needs to be known)
  • Rebellion (against the proper authorities in your life)
  • Judgment (of the heart, motivations, intentions)
  • Bitterness (I deserve better…you don’t)
  • Gossip (Did you know…?  Would you pray for…?)
  • Greed (lack of contentment of things or people or circumstances)
  • Envy (active dislike for people for whom life is better)
  • Hardness of heart (the recognition of sin and its impact on the world does not move you – neither does the lostness of sinners)
  • Laziness (not purposeful rest – I mean you are just flat-out lazy)
  • Meanness (attitude, words. Insults – and passive aggressive is the worst)
  • Dishonor and disrespect (trample on God’s image bearers)

Why highlight this on sermon about Jesus? Because if you don’t see your sin, you will never appreciate the awesome nature of Jesus Christ.We might get all the theology – we might have a way of understanding the incarnation and substitutional atonement, and we’ve watched The Passion, and we sent copies of the Jesus movie all around the world. But if we don’t understand why the phrase “Jesus loves you” ought to undo us, we will never understand the awesome nature of Jesus Christ.

Let’s make it more personal. If everyone else in this room nailed it – never sinned, just lived perfectly – do you know what Jesus would have to do for you? He would have to become human, live a perfect life, die with the weight of your sin on His shoulders, then rise again and advocate just for you.  Don't be thinking,“I hope my spouse is getting this. I wish my kids were here.  I wonder if Anthony is listening to his own sermon? They really need to be broken in repentance.”  I’m sure they all do. I know I do. But if you don’t see that you do too, you will never appreciate the awesomeness of Christ – and you will be insufferable to live with.

Why did Jesus have to become human? Because of your sin.

Why did Jesus have to die? Because of your sin.

Why does Jesus intercede for you now? Why does he have to continue to function as an advocate? Because of your sin.

 The good news is that in spite of all that, Jesus did not come to the world to bring condemnation but to bring salvation. I don’t point these things up so we are overwhelmed by condemnation. I want us to be in awe of salvation. 

“The gospel of justifying faith means that while Christians are, in themselves still sinful and sinning, yet in Christ, in God’s sight, they are accepted and righteous. So we can say that we are more wicked than we ever dared believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared hope — at the very same time. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. It means that the more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you.” Timothy Keller

“...We must say to ourselves something like this: 'Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn't think "I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me." No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us - denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him - and in the greatest act of love in history, he STAYED. He said, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely.” – Timothy Keller

Jesus’ love isn’t a trivial, easy love offered to us because we are so awesome. It’s a love that required a death and resurrection so that we, the dead, can be raised to life. So that we, the image bearers of God, can show the world what it looks like when a God of Salvation loves and then saves the most unlovable and the most hopelessly lost for our good and His glory.

His future personal return in power and glory (Acts 1:10-11). There will be a day when the world sees the glory and power of Christ. There will be a day when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God. 

The Hope of the Resurrection

The following satirical letter to NYU has been floating around the internet for a while:

IN ORDER FOR THE ADMISSIONS STAFF OF OUR COLLEGE TO GET TO KNOW YOU BETTER, WE ASK THAT YOU ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION  ARE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCES YOU HAVE HAD, OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU HAVE REALIZED, THAT HAVE HELPED TO DEFINE YOU AS A PERSON?

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the areas of heat retention. I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.

I woo women with my god like trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am as expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.

Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. I bat 400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.

I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy.  I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations with the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.

I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down.  I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis. But I have not yet gone to college.

He’s a fantastic guy, but he is not real.  He sounds good, but neither I nor anyone else I know of will be restructuring their way of life to follow him, or introducing others to him, or starting a Church of The Living NYU Student, or wearing a bracelet (WWNYUSD). It doesn’t matter how great he sounds, he is not real (and neither was the letter). 

If Jesus was not real – if he was not who he said he was – then Christianity has nothing to offer that you can’t find in another worldview, a self-help shelf or a bottle. But if Jesus was who he claimed to be, then He matters in ways that nothing else does.[i]

This is what I want to address today – the reality of Jesus Christ. If you attend here throughout the year, you are going to hear over and over again how Jesus saves and transforms even the most broken and hopeless lives. You are going to here how God is awesome, and Jesus alone is worthy of our praise. You are going to here testimonies about how Jesus enters into our reality and changes us from the inside out. But this Sunday, I just want to talk about the reality of Jesus. [ii] The APOSTLES CREED (which probably dates from the second century) begins like this:

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord, Conceived of the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried, [he descended to the dead] on the third day he rose again, he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead..,”

 If we have grown up in church or been a Christian for a while, we can lose sight of how fantastic this claim is.  The Incarnation says that God came to earth as a human being in order to save us from the penalty of our sins and restore peace between us and God. God made a good world; we break it. Over and over, we do the kinds of things that destroy peace with God, with others, and within. In an unbelievable act of love and grace, God himself took care of the penalty we deserved so that our sins could be forgiven and peace could be restored.  [iii]

 If you think that’s a fantastic claim today, so did those who lived with Jesus.

 THE BACKGROUND

The Jews had been waiting for a Messiah (a Savior) since David. Time and again they ended up enslaved to other nations. By the first century, they had spent several hundred years convinced that the Spirit of God had been removed from them. They were waiting for a Messiah who would do two key things to fix this broken world: defeat the enemy and liberate Israel (in Jesus' day, that was Rome), and purify / rebuild the temple.  Plenty of people claimed they were this promised Messiah.

  1. Judas Maccabeus 160's BC, entered Jerusalem at the head of an army,  purified the temple, destroyed altars to other gods, but was eventually killed in battle.
  2. Judas (of Galilee), Zealot, led revolt against Romans AD 6 (Acts 5). It failed.
  3. Theudas (mentioned in Acts 5.36) claimed to be a Messiah, and led about 400 people to the Jordan River, where he would divide it to show his power.  He was stopped and executed in AD 46.
  4. The Anonymous Egyptian (Jew), with 30,000 unarmed Jews, did a reenactment of Exodus around AD 55. He led them to the Mount of Olives, where he claimed he would command the walls around Jerusalem to fall.  His group was massacred by Procurator Antonius Felix, and he was never seen again.
  5. Simon bar Kokhba ca. 135), founded a short-lived Jewish state  that he ruled for 3 years before being defeated in the Second Jewish-Roman War.  580,000 Jewish people died.

 

No wonder John the Baptizer, while in jail awaiting his death, sent a message to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” This was John the Baptist, who once announced Jesus as, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He needed to know if Jesus was the real deal.

 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. And blessed are those who do not take offense in me.” (Luke 7)

That last line seems odd, but remember that the Jews were expecting a Messiah with a sword, not a healing touch.  Jesus is basically saying, ‘Don’t let this trip you up. This is what a real Messiah does.”[iv]

So after doing all these things to show He was who He claimed he was, Jesus’ crucifixion suggested that he was just another failed messiah. He had not freed them from Roman rule and had not restored the Temple as they expected.  Now he was dead and his followers were hiding. Typically, another person would be tagged to continue the movement, usually a family member or relative.

And yet three days after Jesus’ death this movement begins.

  • The early Christians claimed they had seen a Resurrected Messiah at a time when no one believed that individuals would be resurrected. The Greeks thought the soul would finally be rid of the body. The Jews believed in the coming Resurrection where the entire world would be renewed, but they did not believe in the personal resurrection of individuals.
  • They didn’t appoint a successor (which was the normal response at the time)
  • The early Christians said they had more hope than ever before, not because Roman rule was gone but because they had been offered life in a Kingdom that was not of this world.
  • They claimed that Jesus had set them free from a much greater problem than Roman rule – the just and eternal consequence of their sin.
  • They claimed that the community of the church was now the temple, and it was being restored as the people in it were transformed into the image of risen Christ who was at work inside them through His Spirit and His word.
  • They worshipped Jesus at a time when worship of a human was blasphemous to the Jews and potentially traitorous to the Romans. 

The early followers of Christ reordered their entire worldview, changed their view of God, and radically changed their way of life to the point of being willing to die. Why? What had happened to cause them to confidently make this claim? [v]

It was the belief that Jesus had resurrected. He had shown He was the Christ, God in the flesh, by showing his mastery over death.

 “But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away – for it was very large.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.  But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed.  You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He is risen. He is not here.  See the place where they laid Him.  But go, tell His disciples – and Peter- that He is going before you into Galilee, and there you will see Him, as He said to you.” (Mark: 16:4-7) 

Several years later, after a miraculous conversion that moved him from a killer of Christians to an apostle of Christ, Paul would write that the power and hope of Christ’s Resurrection is meant to bring us to life. 

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world… all of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts… because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:1-10) 

We are all in need of a Savior. We cannot save ourselves from the sin and brokenness within us and around us.  Nothing outside of us can save us either. We won’t be saved by a new tax system or a higher minimum wage or better health care or another person who will ‘complete us’.  We don’t need a better social circle or more money or amazing sex or the latest I-something. Substitute saviors will never save us.  We know this. They have failed us time and again, and then ones we think are working now will fail us too.

Christ offers to raise us out of sin, despair and death.  As Tim Keller says, because of Christ we are offered the hope that one day “everything sad will come untrue.” The very things that were once a sign of the deadness and despair of sin can be the very things that are a testimony to the life-giving power of Christ. 

That is what Easter offers to us.  The Crucifixion showed us how much God is willing to sacrifice for our good. Our salvation cost Him a crucifixion. The Resurrection of Christ shows us that Jesus has the power to do what He claimed.  We, who are sinful, broken and so often wondering if there is any hope, have an answer. 

“God so loved the world, that He gave His Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  (John 3:16-17)

This is the heart of Christianity, and it is the hope of Resurrection.

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Cold Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace

The Reason for God, Timothy Keller

Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

The Case for Christ and The Case for the Real Jesus, Lee Strobel

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Gary Habermas and Mike Liconna

The Jesus I Never Knew, Phillip Yancey

What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? D. James Kennedy

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis (fiction)

The Sin Eater, Francine Rivers (fiction)

A.D. 30, Ted Dekker (fiction – recommended to me)

The Gospel of John (movie)

 

ENDNOTES

[i]  By way of contrast, the historicity of the founder of other world religious does not carry the same level of importance in other major world religions. Buddhism does not rise and fall on the historical reality of Siddartha – which is good, because the earliest records start 2 to 3 centuries after his death, and some of the trusted manuscripts appear 1,000 years later. Hinduism does not rise and fall on the reality of anyone.  It is not based on historical truth, but revealed principles. (If fact, it sees history as a weak point for other religions, because they become falsifiable.) Islam does not rise or fall on whether or not Mohammed rose from the dead, or was who he claimed he was. He was a prophet, not a Savior.

[ii] For the extra-biblical evidence about the life and person of Jesus, check out an article by J.Warner Wallace, “Is There Any Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible?”  (http://coldcasechristianity.com/2014/is-there-any-evidence-for-jesus-outside-the-bible/)

[iii] The death of Jesus was understood by the early Christians as a fulfillment of a covenant God had made centuries earlier.When God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 (and following), he used the standard form of what was called suzerain covenant-making. In typical fashion, Abraham killed some animals, cut them in pieces, and arranged them to walk through. Typically, both parties or just the weaker party would walk through the dissected animals as a way of saying, “If I break our covenant, may this be done to me as punishment.” But then only God, the stronger party, passed through (as a fiery pillar) – but never made Abraham, the weaker party, do the same.

By passing through the slaughtered animal, God was saying that if He didn’t bless Abraham and honor the covenant, God – the stronger, initiating party - would have to pay the penalty. That alone would be unusual, but that wasn’t the most incredible point. God was saying that if Abraham doesn’t keep the covenant, God would pay the penalty for Abraham.

This was unprecedented. God was clearly not a consumer god, paying attention and blessing us because we made him happy.  God was a covenant god, but completely different from the wealthy, powerful lords of earth. He gave the rules, established the penalty of rule-breaking, then committed to paying that penalty for everybody.

What kind of God would do that? A God who arrives in the person of Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus fulfilled the conditions of the covenant by paying Abraham’s penalty. We commemorate this every time we partake in communion – His body broken, His blood spilled. The covenant must be honored. Someone must pay for breaking the agreement.

Read more at “The Only Thing That Counts,” http://nightfallsandautumnleaves.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-only-thing-that-counts-galatians-51.html

[iv]  There are at least two key reasons Jesus performed miracles.

Miracles confirmed Jesus’ divine mission

  • He “manifested His glory” at the marriage feast in Cana, so his disciples “believed in Him.” (John 2:11)
  • "Men of Israel, listen to this:  Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know.  (Acts 2:22)
  • “Even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John 10:38)

Miracles confirmed the message of the gospel  (Hebrews 2:1-4;  John 2:18-21;   Matthew 12:38)

Then the Jews demanded of him, ‘What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’  Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:18-21)

“...This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  ( Hebrews 2:1-4)

“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"”     (Mark 2:9-12)

[v] “If we are to think in first-century Jewish terms, it is impossible to conceive what sort of religious or spiritual experience someone could have that would make them say that the kingdom of God had arrived when it clearly had not, that a crucified leader was the Messiah when he obviously was not, or that the resurrection occurred last month when it obviously did not.”  - N.T. Wright

 

GCengage: Was Jesus Just A Myth?

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I love the Facebook page “Did Abe Lincoln Really Exist?”  It’s a satirical page that takes the same arguments people use to claim  Jesus was a myth and applies them to the life and record of Abraham Lincoln. It’s funny, but it highlights a serious topic: Did Jesus exist?  Movies Like Zeitgeist, The Da Vinci Code  and  Religious have really pushed the idea that Jesus either didn’t exist or was just another mythical god. In order to respond well to this question, there are at least three key claims that deserve a clear answer.

CLAIM #1: Jesus Never Existed

Even though atheists like Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins seems very excited about this claim, this idea is simply not taken seriously. Rather than cite a host of Christian scholars who obviously take issue with them, I will let Bart Ehrman respond. Ehrman is a  biblical scholar who is also an outspoken Scriptural critic. He does not believe Jesus was God, and he is highly skeptical about the reliability of Scripture, but on this issue he wrote:

“With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) -- sources that originated in Jesus' native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life… Historical sources like that are is pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind 

Moreover, we have relatively extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus' life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus' closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it… 

Moreover, aspects of the Jesus story simply would not have been invented by anyone wanting to make up a new Savior. The earliest followers of Jesus declared that he was a crucified messiah. But prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah. 

The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that. Why did the Christians not do so? Because they believed specifically that Jesus was the Messiah. And they knew full well that he was crucified. The Christians did not invent Jesus…”

Ehrman does not conclude that Jesus was the Messiah, but he clearly makes the case for his existence. In an entry called “Christ Myth Theory,” even Wikipedia (which has received a lot of criticism for having a somewhat hostile view toward Christianity) notes:

“The hypothesis that a historical Jesus figure never existed is supported only by a very small minority of modern scholars… biblical scholars and classical historians now regard theories of non-existence of Jesus as effectively refuted.”

 CLAIM #2: Jesus is a compilation of myths

Books like Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Masks of God, as well as James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, reignited a modern dialogue by claiming that the stories of Krishna, Buddha, Apollonius, Osiris, Jesus and others were all connected.

Jewish scholar Samuel Sandmel calls this "parallelomania” – people see an apparent similarity and then go “maniacal” in their attempts to create a parallel connection in the stories.  The fact that a fictional story bears a resemblance to a later historical event is hardly a sufficient reason to dismiss the event. Here is a more recent example from J. Warner Wallace:

“What if I told you that a man named Morgan Robertson once wrote about a British ocean liner that was about 800 feet long, weighed over 60,000 tons, and could carry about 3,000 passengers? The ship had a top cruising speed of 24 knots, had three propellers, and about 20 lifeboats. What if I told you that this ocean liner hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage in the month of April, tearing an opening in the starboard side forward portion of the ship, and sinking along with about 2,000 passengers? Would you recognize the event from history? 

You might say, “Hey, that’s the Titanic!” Well, you would be wrong. While all these details are identical to the Titanic, the ship I am talking about is the “Titan” and it is a fictional ship described in Robertson’s book called “The Wreck of the Titan” or “Futility” (Buccaneer Books, Cutchogue, New York, 1898). This book was written fourteen years BEFORE the disaster took place, and several years before the construction was even begun on the Titanic!"

Correlation is not causation. Similarity is not plagiarism. Furthermore, there are at least six separate problems with the mythical “dying and rising god” analogy: 

  • There are no dying and rising gods similar to Jesus in mythology.
  • No evidence suggests that Jesus fit that profile of the pagan gods even if the “dying and rising god” similarities were true.
  • In 1 Corinthians15, we have one of the earliest Christian creeds dating to around 55 AD. Paul said it was “received,” so it was already in place before then. The idea that a mythical Jesus emerged in that short of a time span is very hard to defend.
  • Similarities between Mithraic and Christian rituals were written about by early Christians, but the writers saw it as a distortion of Christian practices, not a foundational tradition that helped to start Christianity. In fact, Mithraism didn’t reach the area in which Christianity began until the later part of the first century (thanks to Roman soldiers bringing the ideas back with them).
  • Because the Christian community was largely populated by people raised in Judaism, the idea that early Christians would choose to combine pagan myths with their faith is very unlikely (something about “having no other gods”).
  • The early followers of Christ clearly believed him to be divine, as seen in the many ICTHUS carvings that have survived. (ICTHUS is an anagram for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.”)

CLAIM #3: We don’t need a physical Jesus to die and resurrect.

The idea is that a spiritual Jesus, or a real Jesus with a purely spiritual resurrection, would be sufficient for the Christian claims about salvation and resurrection. Therefore, we don't need to worry about the controversy over his historicity or legacy. However, the historical resurrection of Jesus is crucial to all the core doctrinal claims of Christianity.

Jesus’ death did not prove His divinity; anybody can die. His Resurrection was the proof. “By being raised from the dead [Christ] was proved to be the mighty Son of God, with the holy nature of God Himself." (Romans 1:4, The Living Bible). Paul writes very clearly about the importance of this claim:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7)

Through His Resurrection, Jesus’ claims about the ability to forgive sin were confirmed:  “If Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain…That is, if there truly was no resurrection, then we, believers, are to be pitied for being so hoodwinked.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)  If Jesus can break the power of physical death, then his claim to cancel spiritual death carries a lot of weight.

 RECOMMENDED RESOURCES 

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 “When they say that Christian beliefs about Jesus are derived from pagan mythology, I think you should laugh. Then look at them wide-eyed and with a big grin, and exclaim, "Do you really believe that?" Act as though you've just met a flat earther or Roswell conspirator. You could say something like, "Man, those old theories have been dead for over a hundred years! Where are you getting this stuff?" Tell them this is just sensationalist junk, not serious scholarship. If they persist, then ask them to show you the actual passages narrating the supposed parallel. They're the ones who are swimming against the scholarly consensus, so make them work hard to save their religion. I think you'll find that they've never even read the primary sources.”  – William Lane Craig

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/jesus-and-pagan-mythology#ixzz2af6RdBhh

Could We Live Like This?

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He Is Risen!

 

Luke 22:54-62 (ESV)

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

 

Ashamed

 

 

Luke 23:44-47 (ESV)

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,[b] 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus,calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

 

Mourning

 

 

Matthew 28:5-7 (ESV)

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

John 20:11-16 (ESV)

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her,“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

 

Rescued

 

John 20:19-21; 26-28 (ESV)

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me,even so I am sending you.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

 

Doubting

 

Luke 24:45-48 (ESV)

45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written,that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and[a]forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

John 20:30-31 (ESV)

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

Despairing

 

Matthew 28: 18-20 (ESV)

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

 

I love the characters in the story of the Resurrection. They are us. The Bible does not surround Jesus with superheroes. Prostitutes, tax collectors, and the demon possessed hung out with him. Before and after he died, his followers scattered in despair. Even after he rose again, people didn’t believe him.

That’s just the way people are. It’s a messy story.

Jesus died and rose to save people who really need saving, people who were dying in some way because of it. 

With the Resurrection of Jesus came an important question: “Can things be different for us too? Do we have to life like that? Or can we live like this – like you?” We don’t want “that,” the way we already know we can live: We can be cowardly, overwhelmed by grief, broken by our sinfulness, doubting, full of despair. Nailed it. But if what you are saying is true, there is a new way to live.

"[Jesus’] purpose in dying for them is that their lives should now be no longer lived for themselves but for him who died and rose again for them.... in Christ [we] become new people altogether—the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new.” (2 Corinthians 5:15-17)

“God has restored our relationship with Him through Christ—not counting our sins against us —and has given us this message of reconciliation. We are now Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were appealing direct through us… We appeal to you, on behalf of Christ, ‘Make your peace with God.’” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Paul is writing this. Paul, one of the very people who were so full of sin, so broken, so dead inside. Paul is the voice of the Resurrected, through whom God wants to spread the Good News to the World. Jesus is alive, and because the dead can live again through the power of God, no one needs to be “dead in their sins.” All can be brought to life through Christ.

  • The cowards can become unashamed. The disciples who hid in fear became the voice of the Gospel.
  • The used can become worthy. The prostitutes and demon possessed were the first to witness the risen Christ.
  • The broken can be mended. Jesus specifically meets with Peter to let him know that God wanted him in his kingdom.
  • Those dead in their sins can be made alive. That which has brought shame and despair can be transformed into boldness and hope.

This is the power of the Resurrection.

We can all live like this.

Church as a Spiritual Hospital

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After we visit our local hospital or doctor for a particular ailment (see Part One in this series on the Great Physician), we can sometimes be completely healed of the problem. We can get a new start. But we also discuss with the doctor or nurse about a plan so our new health will continue to flourish. This is called compliance:

“Accepting life-saving treatment. The extent to which a person’s behavior coincides with medical advice. Adaptation or adherence to medical advice.” (d3jonline.tripod.com)

On the other hand, we can undermine our new-found health. In medical terms, this is called non-compliance.

“It is estimated that 125,000 people with treatable ailments die each year simply because they do not take prescribed medications properly or they skip them altogether.” (“Why You Need To Follow Doctor’s Orders,” health.heraldtribune.com)

“Most patients believe…that the less medicine they take the less sick they are. That is precisely why although we know than penicillin will cure a strep throat in 7 days we prescribe a 10 day course of the antibiotic. Many patients will stop as soon as they feel better.” (“Medicine: Facts and Fictions at ghthomas.blogspot.com)

“We eat foods that kill us, we don't stick to our exercise regimens, and we don't follow our doctors' orders, even when we remember what they tell us. If you ask people whether it's smart to get a colonoscopy if the doctor says you need one, no one's going to say no… but no one wakes up and says, 'Yes, today is a good day for a colonoscopy.'" (“Mind Your Body: Doctor’s Orders – Without Distress.” www.psychologytoday.com)

Preventative medicine and follow-up plans trip a lot of people up. Those in the health profession agree: non-compliance is a huge problem. Why?

Because it’s hard!

The doctor gave a blueprint for ongoing health – and for whatever reasons, we just have a hard time following it. “I’m not that sick…My doctor doesn’t understand…it’s so complicated…” So we get more sick when we could be flourishing.

The Apostle Paul had a plan to help us be compliant once we have been spiritually healed by the Great Physician. By "compliant" I don’t mean non-thinking robots who legalistically follow and judge, and I don’t mean that we can save ourselves in the sense that only Christ can. Christ has a plan for how we can spiritually flourish while we are under His care. In Ephesians 4, Paul explains how the church has been put together in such a way that we can all join together to experience the fullness of life in Christ.

And [God] has given us apostles (founding messengers), prophets (forth-tellers), evangelists (those who tells the good news by vocation), pastors (shepherds who care, feed, and protect) and teachers (instructors of Scripture)….

We spend a lot of time talking about whether or not we fit into any of those categories, but we don’t always connect that phrase to the rest of the paragraph. There is a REASON God has given all these things:

"To equip the saints for the work of ministry , and to build up the body of Christ."

Not only is there a REASON, there is a GOAL, a target:

“Until we all attain to: unity because of our faith, knowledge of the Son of God (experiential knowledge), maturity (a spiritual process involving intelligence and virtue), and stature (being filled up with the presence of Christ when we are ready)."

And then we read the RESULT - the expected outcome is if we follow the doctor’s plan for health:

"We will no longer be immature and simple, tossed around by the waves and carried away by every new teaching, deceitful people, or clever lies that sound like the truth. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we will be put together one piece at a time as we become more and more like Christ, the head of the church."

This sounds like a great plan for ongoing health and life. Is there a practical way to understand how this can be accomplished?

1) Biblical Teaching (sound doctrine)

“The Mayo Clinic found that over half of patients couldn’t list their diagnoses, treatment plan, or prescribed medications and their common side effects… Physicians need to communicate well… so what they’re saying makes sense to the patient in every respect.” (“Compliance Follows Alliance,” www.cpso.on.ca)

One of the goals of a church is to help people understand the spiritual diagnosis, the treatment plan, and the expected results – as well as learn how to communicate well on behalf of the Great Physician. He has given us his Spirit, his manual (the Bible), and a great hospital staff (the congregation). But understanding the manual is not always easy, and we all need sound knowledge and wisdom to go with a heart for the hurting. So churches can help to provide ongoing "compliance" techniques by:

  • Preaching accurately 
  • Offering classes on theology, apologetics, and the Christian life
  • Choosing songs that accurately capture the truth and wonder of God
  • Studying books from other Christians who have something important to say about the Doctor.

Are people or churches perfect? Nope. That’s impossible. But we can do our best to be accountable to God and to each other as we continually grow in our ability to present the Gospel in its fullness. Philippians 1:9-10 notes:

"And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more (a love that has scope and power) in knowledge (precise and correct) and depth of insight (moral discernment), so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure (sifted; free of hypocrisy) and blameless (not offensive) until the day of Christ…”

2) Godly Relationships

"A physician friend and I often speak about the difficulty she and her colleagues have getting patients to do what’s recommended, or change the healthy or unhealthy behaviors they need to address in order to improve chronic and temporary health conditions. She’s come up with her own hypothetical solution. If only she could get all of the friends and family of her patients in a room to support her advice—she’d have better compliance and healthier patients. She’s seen it over and over again as a physician practicing with all ages of patients. She’s seen the epiphany and the behavior change occur not when she’s repeated information for the umpteenth time, but only when her advice is corroborated and supported by a spouse, a sibling, a close friend, a trusted neighbor.” (a paraphrase from “Following Doctor’s Orders: Behavior Change in 82-year-olds.” Behavior Change.net.)

I give this analogy not because Christ in insufficient to change lives, but because there is something to be said for the support of others. There was more than one disciple who followed Jesus. There are many observations in Scripture about the importance of friends:

  • “Where there is no guidance, people fall; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14)
  • “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor…” (Proverbs 12:26)
  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
  • “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4)

3) Lifelong Perspective

"I tell patients that treating them is more like a marathon than a sprint. It matters a little less to me what happens today, tomorrow or next week, and much more to me what happens over the next 10 years…” (“Why You Need To Follow Doctor’s Orders,” health.heraldtribune.com)

The analogy here breaks down a bit – it does matter what you do today if we are talking about spiritual health. But the overall point is solid. The Apostle Paul wrote:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Following Jesus is not something we do just in the moment. It’s a journey. There will be ups and downs. One reason the church must stress Biblical teaching and relationships is because we know that as in any long race we will be injured, or distracted, or tempted to drop out. Through the presence of the Christ in our lives, the foundation of Scripture and the support of godly friends, we can all finish the race and keep the faith.

And that's just what the Doctor ordered.

Between Crucifixion and Resurrection: Two Kind of Roads

(Read Part 1: "Between Crucifixion and Resurrection: A World Without God")   
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  In Luke Chapter 24 we see an event that takes place in the time between the death and the resurrection of Jesus

A time without hope. 
A time where it looked like they had been the prophets of a failed Messiah. 
A time when they tried so hard, but in the end it looked like nothing they really mattered.

Luke 24:13-27
     Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days? “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;  but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel...  Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 

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     There is a world of hurt in this statement: “We had hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Can we all be honest?  There are times when Jesus feels GONE, and even if Jesus were standing right next to us, we wouldn’t be able to see him.
      There are times in life in which we feel abandoned, alone, and hopeless.  The Bible’s honest about it – there’s no shame in acknowledging what we all know to be true.  But those times didn’t last.  They are just seasons the Christ redeems.   
      There was always hope;  a God of Resurrection know how to bring life from death.  I didn’t see it at the times I was struggling, but Jesus was always there, on my Emmaus Road, walking with me. It just took me a while to see Him.
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     So what is the solution? Are there things we can do to get out of these times of despair? I don’t have a magic formula, but the Bible gives us basic principles: 

Psalm 121:1-2
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— 
where does my help come from? 
My help comes from the LORD, 
  the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 123:1-2
Unto you I lift up my eyes, O God who dwells in the heavens… our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us.”
"My voice you will hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto you, and will look up.”  Psalm 5:3
    I hear the language in the Bible over and over again about directing our sight toward God, toward Christ. “I will lift up my eyes…”  We even see this imagery embedded in the story of the Emmaus Road in Luke 24:30:
 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
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     How do we look up and find Christ in the midst of despair?  I notice three things in the Emmaus Road story that are instructive.
1)     A community of Christians.  Cleopas was with a friend on the road to Emmaus. Even in the midst of his despair and disillusionment, he walked life's road with a friend. So often, we want to retreat and not let people in to the areas of our hearts and lives that seem desolate.  But we need the company of others!
2)     A study of the Bible.  Among other things, Jesus explained the Word to them.  He opened up the Bible and showed them truths that had always been there, but they had somehow missed.  The Bible is given to us so that we meet the Way, the Truth, and the Life through a message He has preserved for our hope. 
3)     A conversation with our Savior.  It's one thing to read about the Way, the Truth, and the Life - it's quite another to speak to Christ and experience his presences.  We see on the the road to Emmaus that the travelers fellowshipped with Jesus himself.  They talked; they shared supper and communion with Him. We can't talk to Christ like this, but we can pray - we can speak to God, knowing He hears, and that He is near.