Monthly Archives: March, 2013

Firmly holding “the actual resurrection”

I so very much hope that you do not find the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ to be “stale” news.  Today finds me grateful that I have been taught the truth about Jesus’ rising from the dead.  The events are not “very deep and mystical.”  While there are indeed profound implications due to the death and resurrection of Christ, we must be careful not to lose the forest among the trees.

“Up from the grave He arose”!

Spurgeon wrote the following:

Upon the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus our salvation hinges. He who believes these truths aright hath believed the gospel, and believing the gospel he shall without doubt find eternal salvation therein. But men want novelties; they cannot endure that the trumpet should give forth the same certain sound, they crave some fresh fantasia every day. “The gospel with variations” is the music for them. Intellect is progressive, they say; they must, therefore, march ahead of their forefathers. Incarnate Deity, a holy life, an atoning death, and a literal resurrection,—having heard these things now for nearly nineteen centuries they are just a little stale, and the cultivated mind hungers for a change from the old fashioned manna. Even in Paul’s day this tendency was manifest, and so they sought to regard facts as mysteries or parables, and they labored to find a spiritual meaning in them till they went so far as to deny them as actual facts. Seeking a recondite meaning, they overlooked the fact itself, losing the substance in a foolish preference for the shadow. While God set before them glorious events which fill heaven with amazement they showed their foolish wisdom by accepting the plain historical facts as myths to be interpreted or riddles to be solved. He who believed as a little child was pushed aside as a fool that the disputer and the scribe might come in to mystify simplicity, and hid the light of truth. Hence there had arisen a certain Hymenaeus and Philetus, “who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tim. 2:18). They spirited away the resurrection; they made it to mean something very deep and mystical, and in the process they took away the actual resurrection altogether.

Let’s us beware of thinking we must add something to make the resurrection more attractive.  Instead, may we be filled with amazement today and everyday!

The section from Spurgeon was take from a sermon located at:

http://www.gotothebible.com/HTML/resurrection.html

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Dayenu — It was finally ENOUGH!

I had the wonderful privilege last night of leading a group of students in a celebration of the Passover.  I repeated the event tonight with my own children. The meal is called a seder.  It is an “orderly” dinner.  And it is roughly the same meal Jesus celebrated over thirty times in His life.  It was the ocassion for Jesus and His disciples meeting together in the “Upper Room” (John 13-17).

I always enjoy pointing out how the various elements of the  meal foreshadow the person and/or work of “the lamb looking as if He had been slain” (Rev. 5:6) — Jesus Christ!  On the Video Links page (See above), you will find a Jews for Jesus video I watched several times as I prepared for this year’s seder.  If you have the time, you will be encouraged as you watch–especially during this passion week.

One of my favorite parts of the celebration is when we proclaim the Dayenu.  As you can see from the illustration below, Dayenu literally means “It would have been enough.”

dayenu1

Allow me to share part of the text of the Haggadah (book of the “telling”) that I utilized last night.

If the Lord had only rescued us, but had not judged the Egyptians – Dayenu!
If He had only destroyed their gods, but had not parted the Red Sea – Dayenu!
If He had only drowned the Egyptians, but had not give us manna – Dayenu!
If He had only guided us through the  desert, but had not blessed us with the Sabbath – Dayenu!
If He had only give us His Law, but not the land of Israel – Dayenu!

“It would have been enough!”

And–yet–it wasn’t enough.

Think through the list above.  God had done A LOT.  But none of it was enough to provide for eternal redemption.  The Jews think back to what God accomplished for the people of Israel as they lifted the cup of redemption–the third cup of the seder.  As I lifted the cup tonight, I thought of Jesus Christ and the redemption He provided for all those who believe.  The angel of death passed over the homes sprinkled with blood.  Temporary protection.  The sting of death will pass over me because I  have been sprinkled with the bood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:2)!  That’s eternal!

The annual Passover Seder is a beautiful picture–a vivid canvas teaching us in sights, smells, sounds and tastes that Jesus Christ is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

He is ENOUGH!

Psalm Sunday – The Return of the King

palm-sunday-title-slide053

The King entered Jerusalem – again!  He had been there many times.  In fact, He was in the city just the night before.  But this entrance was unique.  A crowd had gathered.  A celebratory spirit was filling the air.  A song rang out.

“The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!'” (Mt. 21:9). 

The Son of David had arrived at the City of David!  What would He do?  What changes would take place?  The anticipation was so thick you could cut it with a scribe’s knife.  But the scribes missed it.  Just about the entire lot of Jewish leaders were blind to what was transpiring.

Matthew explained in his gospel,

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’  This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:  ‘Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”‘” (Mt. 21:1-5). 

The pictures and the prophecies were being fulfilled before their very eyes, but they were blind (Mt. 23:16,17).  The god of this age had blinded their minds so that they could not see the light of the gospel which is the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4).

I pray that the same cannot be said of you.  My hope is that today finds you rejoicing that the passion week in the life of our Lord began that morning at one of the gates leading into Jerusalem.  For without His entrance, there would be no suffering.  Without His suffering, there would be no death.  Without His death, there would be no resurrection.  Without His resurrection, there would be no ascension.  Without His ascension, there would be no eternal heir on David’s throne.

Celebrate, Jesus, Celebrate!

A basket or a bouquet?

“He’s in a better place now.”
“She went home to be with her Lord.”

I am struck by the lack of uncertainty that we have when our loved one’s die.  Regardless of how they have lived, we convince ourselves that the moment after their passing they were in the glorious presence of God.

Without a doubt, we want to believe this sentiment.  Let’s be honest–who of us wants to entertain the thought that our deceased family member or friend is not in heaven, but is–in fact–in a place of suffering?  None of us do.

But what about those will who grieve our passing?  What will they think?

Perhaps I should ask the question this way:  What will you leave–a basket or a bouquet?

Most of us will leave a bouquet–a beautiful arrangement of flowers.  At the memorial service, others will admire the colors.  They will enjoy the scent.  But the rich colors will begin to fade.  The scent will diminish.  The flowers will eventually be thrown.

Allow me to suggest an alternative.  Rather than leaving a bouquet, let’s leave a basket–a fruit basket!  Consider the following:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:15-23)

WOW–consider that warning statement from Scripture!  There is a vast difference between looking like a sheep and being a sheep!  Which am I?  Which are you?  How can we know?  Fruit.  Wolves do not bear good fruit.  Sheep do.  Wolves may call Jesus “Lord.”  They may even perform acts “in His name.”  But their fruit is consistently bad, not good.

These thought cause me to remember the response of John the Baptist as the religious leaders came to him to be baptized.  I’ll quote it below.  Notice the concept of fruit mentioned again.

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10).

Isn’t that almost shocking?!  These men come to be baptized and John said, “Nope!  Ain’t gonna happen.”  What John was doing in the waters of the Jordan was anything but a performance.  As was their custom, the Pharisees and Sadducees–what I call “The Greatest Show on Earth” during the days of Jesus–were doing what they always do–going for the applause of men.  But John knew it!  He could see through the white walls!  And–he could see their empty bouquets!  That’s why he so boldly told them to product fruit in keeping with repentance!

This concept of bearing fruit is repeated throughout the New Testment.  Various writers challenge us to let our light shine (Mt. 5:16).  Paul even gives us a list of what he calls “the fruit of the Spirit.”  The point is clear.  Our lives should give clear evidence of our identity.  In other words, our eulogy must contain more than “He prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer'” as a child” or “She attended church every week her entire life.”  Beloved–the religious leaders during the life of Jesus and John the Bapitst prayed.  They attended their local synagoge every Sabbath and participated in Temple worship.  But their fruit was bad.  They were in a very precarious place. They were given no assurance of eternal life.

There is a vast difference between looking like a sheep and being a sheep!  Furthermore, there is  a vast difference between being religious and being a real, fruit-producing branch.

“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive” (Acts 9:36-41). 

I am not sure I can provide a better example of the truth I am presenting today than that of Docas.  Luke–the Holy Spirit-inspired author of Acts–informs us that she was a disciple of Jesus Christ.  She was a follower of the risen Rabbi.  She didn’t just know about Jesus.  She knew Him!  And–her life proved it!  He mentioned three proofs of the authenticity of her profession: (1) She was always doing good, (2) She helped the poor and (3) She blessed her friends.  Friends, that is bearing fruit in keeping with repentance.  That is presenting a basket for others to enjoy!  That is the eulogy we should all desire be distributed at our funeral.

Will it be?

“Jesus, please go away!”

Can you imagine having a face-to-face encounter with Jesus?!  That thought is the reason I do not fear my death, whether it happens suddenly and unexpectedly or I am given the opportunity to see my passing approaching as my  father and grandfather did.  My death is my gain.  My dying will be a glorious gateway to the presence of Jesus.  Of that, I have no doubt.  I can’t wait to see Jesus!

However, some individuals were blessed with the divine encounter in this life.  Luke 8 recounts the story of one of those incidents.  Jesus and His disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee.  When they had arrived at the region of the Gerasenes, a demon-possessed man came up to Him.

“And when He came out onto the land, He was met by a man from the city who was possessed with demons; and who had not put on any clothing for a long time, and was not living in a house, but in the tombs. Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me” (Lk. 8:27,28).

I love to point out that the demon saw right through the flesh of Jesus.  He recognized the “Son of the Most High God” from their time together before time began.  Now fallen, this demon clearly understood the authority of Christ.  Peter also acknowledged Jesus’ deity after watching Him fish (Lk. 5:4-10).  Peter’s unexpected response to what he had witnessed shocked me when I first read it.

But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Lk. 5:8).

After further reflection, I came to the conclusion that Peter did, in fact, respond appropriately.  His reaction was similar to that of the prophet Isaiah many years earlier.  Both men–after realizing that they were in the actual presence of their holy God–wanted to hide.  They were ashamed of their sin.  Surely Peter’s statement was hyperbole–a bold statement to emphasize his emotion.  He didn’t really want Jesus to go.  And Jesus stayed.

A while later, though, a group of people from the land of the Gerasenes were not using a literary device in their conversation with Jesus.  After demonstrating the fact that He truly was the Son of the Most High God by casting the legion of demons out of the man (Lk. 8:32), the citizens of the area decided together to do one of the most ridiculous actions in the history of the world.

“And all the people of the country of the Gerasenes and the surrounding district asked Him to leave them, for they were gripped with great fear; and He got into a boat and returned” (Lk. 8:37). 

They asked Jesus to leave.

And they were serious.

Remarkable.

Why?

Fear.

Baptist theologian John Gill commented that they implored Jesus to  leave “lest they should suffer other and greater losses” (eSword). And perhaps Matthew Henry was correct as well when he remarked, “Those lose their Saviour, and their hopes in him, that love their swine better” (eSword).  Consider the contrasts–safety or Jesus; money or God.

In closing, might I ask these questions:  What would you have said had you been Peter?  My guess is that–put in the same situation–you may have responded similarly.  But how might you have reacted had your pigs rushed down the cliff into the sea?  Would you have rejoiced at the miraculous deliverance–the exorcism, or would you have joined the crowd and asked Jesus–the Son of the Most High God–to leave?

You know–I almost respect their unabashed honesty.  They looked Jesus Christ in the face and begged Him to leave their region.  I think that is more commendable than our treating Him as inconsequential.  So many of us simply choose to ignore Him.  If anything, Jesus is a religious accessory for which we just do not have time.

“Maybe later.”

Think about it.

And, if God is speaking to you today regarding anything written above, respond appropriately.  Talk to HIM.  Don’t treat HIM as unimportant.  And–I beg YOU, do not ask Him to leave.  Instead, worship.

Treasure of the Scribes

What is the kingdom of heaven like?  Who will explain it to me?

Great questions!  Jesus provides answers to both!

Question #1 – What is the kingdom of heaven like?

Answer:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Mt. 13:44-47).

The kingdom of heaven is a treasure, something of great value.  Have you ever wondered why that is so?

Question #2 – Who will explain it to me?

Answer:

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old'” (Mt. 13:52).

When you meditate upon that verse, does anyone’s name come to mind?  I immediately thought of the Apostle Paul.  He was a Jewish scholar who became a disciple of Jesus.  The rest of his life was spent in bringing out treasure from both new and old!  In a sense, cannot the same be said of every faithful pastor and theologian?  They are convinced that what they possess in Christ is indeed a treasure.  Now they devote their efforts to explaining the treasure from the New (New Covenant/New Testament) and from the Old (Old covenant/Old Testament).  They joyfully proclaim to us that surpassing value of knowing Christ (Phil. 3) and that the treasures of Christ can be mined from Genesis to Revelation.

If you have a faithful pastor, would you take a moment and thank God for them.  Not every sheep is so blessed.  And pray for their continued faithfulness.  Pray that others around them might ensure that the majority of their time is spent in prayer and the ministry of the Word (see Acts, chapter six).

Finally–please allow to meddle.  Have you found Christ to be a treasure?  Have you mined His treasures in the Scriptures?  Have you come to the place in your life where the honest cry of your heart is: All things are rubbish compared to Jesus?  The kingdom of heaven is incredibly valuable because the King of the kingdom is priceless!  Spend time this week getting to know Him!

“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8)!

Listening to the Latter Prophets

I taught a lesson this week on the Latter Prophets.  In the Jewish division of the Old Testament books, the Latter Prophets include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the twelve Minor Prophets.  I spoke about key themes in the books and provided an introduction to a selection of the books.  And–as you might have expected–I made a point of pointing out that the prophets pointed to Christ!  Isaiah is a great example, perhaps the most Christo-centric of all the Old Testament books.  Here’s a sampling:

Chapter 6—The Exalted Christ
Chapter 9—The Incarnate Christ
Chapter 53—The Suffering Christ 
Chapter 55—The All-Sufficient Christ

We can only wonder what was going through Isaiah’s mind as he saw Jesus–the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord (Is. 6), predicted His coming in the flesh (Is. 9) and sufferings (Is. 53), and proclaimed that this coming Son of David is the only true source for genuine and permanent satisfaction (Is. 55).

I found the following on the Resurgence website (link below):

“Christ is your mediator, substitute, and righteousness. In that sense, Jesus is the true and better you too. He is the vine; you are a branch. And that is the sense in which we ought to see him behind and beneath and over the Old Testament stories. He is Abraham’s righteousness. He is David’s hope. He is Isaiah’s vision. He is present in their lives and actions not as a flat symbol or literary device; he is present in their lives as their salvation, and thus is their truer and better.”

The online article began with these words, “The Old Testament in chock-full of Jesus.”

Indeed!  That’s why my last slide in my power point this week was:

The value of the OT
It teaches us about God
It teaches us about us
It points us to Christ
The OT knows nothing about
Not worshiping God
Not believing Christ

Thank God today for the continuity of the Old and New Testaments.  66 Books.  One divine Author.  Many human writers.  One main character–Jesus Christ.  Our Lord.  Our Savior.

And the Lord seemed to sleep

Those honest words were spoken by Pope Benedict during his final public address in St. Peter’s Square on February 27th.

Although I am not a big fan of the papacy, I very much appreciated the honesty and humility expressed by the retiring pope.

There are times when God does indeed appear to be asleep.  I know what the Scriptures proclaim.  God does not slumber nor sleep (Ps. 121:4).  But the Bible also contains the forthright words of struggling saints.

“Arouse Thyself, why dost Thou sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. Why dost Thou hide Thy face, And forget our affliction and our oppression?” (Ps. 44:23,24)

Have you ever felt that God was indifferent to your concerns?  I have.  Have you wondered if your prayers were bounching off of the ceiling?  I’ve been there as well.  But the Lord was with me–even during the storms.  If I might–allow me to quote the entire section from the Pope’s speech:

“I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been – and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His – and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/read-the-full-text-of-the-popes-final-general-audience-address/article9104378/?cmpid=rss1

“Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque.”

Translation:  Jesus is always in the boat.

At this point, let me distance myself from the context of the Pope’s address and apply his sentiments to my own situation.  Jesus is in the barque–present in the boat of my life.  He will not let me sink.  He will continue to steer me.  He has never left me without His consolation, His light, His love.

Friends–believe me when I state that I could provide Bible verses to support those claims!  Both Old and New Testaments are replete with passages which prove that God is present and active in the lives of His people.  His consolation is personal in the Holy Spirit.  His light is a lamp for my path as I open the Word.  His love is inseparable thanks to the words and works of Jesus Christ!

Yes–if we are honest enough to admit it–there are moments we wonder if the Lord has nodded off.  Our interpretation of our circumstances causes us to think that God is indifferent.  But He is not.  He remains in complete control.  And what He is doing is always consistent with His nature.  He is good and He does good (Ps. 119:168).

If you are one of God’s children, be encouraged today.  If you find yourself in a trial, keep trusting.  I am not Roman Catholic.  I deny aposotolic succession and papal infallibility and a host of other doctrines and practices.  But I do commend a man who is comfortable enough in his own skin to admit his doubts without rejecting his faith.