Sunday, August 27, 2017
It's interesting to consider the way that the very first and last lessons Jesus taught during His earthly ministry bookend each other...
Recall that Jesus began his earthly ministry with "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 5. In particular, the "Beatitudes" were a message of hope to the hopeless, directed toward the poor in spirit, the heartbroken; this was a series of blessings for those that hungered and thirsted for righteousness. Certainly it is a great comfort to read through this chapter even today! As one not at home in this world, Jesus promises a bright future of hope!
Unfortunately, there are some who have attempted to soften Jesus’ image. They may say that the Son of God only preached compassion and that His words were always uplifting and encouraging. They try to paint Jesus as a preacher who avoided topics such as condemnation and Hell.
What a shock and discomfort Matthew 23 must be for these individuals! In His last public address Jesus concentrated solely on the religious class of the day. Here He doesn’t hold back his disdain for the conduct and character of the Scribes and Pharisees. Therefore, this chapter is sometimes accompanied with the subtitle “the Seven Woes”.
To those who believe that the Bible describes two different Gods – that the God of the Old Testament was cruel and judgmental, while the God of New Testament is gracious and kind – Matthew 23 stands as a reminder that God is the same throughout the Bible. Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees is just as fierce of a rebuke as anything we can read coming from any of the Old Testament prophets. We must remember that God is consistent and the same through all of time, and this includes the Old and New Testaments.
More importantly, we need to pay close attention to why Jesus was so stern in His rebuke of the Scribes and Pharisees. After all, these were religious men who were “confident of their own righteousness” (Luke 18:9).
As a people aspiring toward righteousness today, we must be careful to avoid the pitfalls of these clearly un-righteous men! Do these woes apply to us today?
Woe to You for Shutting the Kingdom
Matthew 23:13-15 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
The scribes and Pharisees were diligent in their observation of the Law. They regularly attended synagogue, tithed, prayed, and even preached. They were held in high regard within the Jewish community. They even acted as evangelists, seeking to convert those around them.
However, the Pharisees weren’t usually looking for those who didn’t know God at all.
Instead, they looked for people to convert to their own particular “brand” of religion. Many of them had their own ideas on traditions and theories for their respective sect and sought to exclude all others. Even worse, the corrupt teachings of the Pharisees bred a legion of "converted" false teachers who would perpetuate lies, thereby spreading condemnation.
Matthew 15:3, 7-9 And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
Are we guilty of the same? Have we set up a system of rules where the message is “do everything our way or else”? Are we some kind of denomination of the church described in the Bible? Have we created our own traditions that we’ve tried make necessary to in order enter Heaven? Do we attempt to impose a dress code for attending worship? Do we put a heavy emphasis on church attendance? Do we attempt to make a sin out of things the Bible doesn't list as such, like smoking, tattoos, etc?
I certainly hope that we are seeking to be a part of the one church that Jesus came to establish. I hope that we only preach God’s Word, nothing more and nothing less.
Acts 20:27 …For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
Woe to You for Being Deceitful
Matthew 23:16-22 Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
Here Jesus criticized a religious ritual that the Pharisees had created around making oaths.
The Pharisees were seeking loopholes when it came to oaths taking a “collateral” approach. The whole system went something like this: If you swore by the Temple, that wasn’t a binding oath because you don’t own the Temple. But, if you swore by the “gold in the Temple” that was a binding oath, because some of that gold might have been yours. However, if you swore by the altar, you could lie all you wanted. BUT… If you swore by the sacrifice on the altar, you’d better be telling the truth!!! What a crooked and convoluted scheme! Basically, the Pharisees were looking for ways to be underhandedly dishonest!
Concerning oaths, we know that Jesus had elsewhere strictly warned against the practice. He said that a simple “yes” or “no” should be enough and that any oath beyond that was of “the evil one”. God certainly wouldn’t approve of His children being untruthful or looking for loopholes.
Zechariah 8:17 …Do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.
Woe to You for Neglecting the Heart of the Law
Matthew 23:23-24 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
Next, Jesus attacked the Pharisees’ methods of tithing. During their time, tithing was the form of contribution by which the Temple was kept, how religious feasts and festivals were funded, and funded the needs of the poor. The Pharisees were incredibly meticulous in their tithing, to the point of ridiculousness. Everything had to be exact… Everything.
Recall that the tithe was a contribution by which you gave 10% of what you earned or prospered. The Pharisees took this to a scrupulous extreme in which even their spices measured to exactly ten percent! Elsewhere, we read that the Pharisees criticized Jesus for not washing His hands (Luke 11:37) and His disciples for “working on the Sabbath” by simple collecting grains to eat as they walked through a field (Luke 6:1-5). The Pharisees were the epitome of legalism. According to their inflexible brand of religion, every law, even the most minute had to be followed exactly!
Jesus pointed out that the Pharisees worried so much about these minor issues that they missed the whole point of the law completely! As Jesus said, they “strained out a gnat to swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24)! The Pharisees focused so much on minor matters such as how to tithe that they overlooked the major matters that God truly cares about.
What truly concerns God is the attitudes within our hearts. Are we merciful? Are we forgiving? A legalistic attitude doesn’t leave much room for these traits. A heart with a true passion for Christ can’t help but show compassion for people.
The Pharisees were shown time and again to be very petty. We probably know our fair share of petty individuals... Petty people are constantly on the lookout for something to be angry or offended about. They get their feelings hurt constantly over imagined slights like something as minor as receiving a wrong look or someone failing to say “hi”. These folks are often so unhappy because they're looking for someone or something to complain about!
Are we as legalistic as the Pharisees? Do we focus more on “churchy” rules and procedures than we do the people of God’s Kingdom themselves? Do we practice pettiness over true piety?
Hopefully this is not the case. While we should be concerned with following God’s Word, I hope that we don’t lose focus on purpose behind His laws. I hope that we love people over procedures and that our time and effort are focused on the weightier matters of Scripture such as justice and mercy. I hope that we seek opportunities to serve others.
“Love is the identifying mark of Christianity. I a world of hate, envy, and anger, love sticks out like a healthy thumb. When anyone walks away from an encounter with us, that person should remember our love, not our convictions.” – Rodney Pickett
John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Woe to You for Hypocrisy
Matthew 23:25-28 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Jesus used the term “hypocrites!” throughout this passage, but here really drives the point home.
The word “hypocrite” is actually a Greek term that refers to actors in the theater. As we know, actors are only playing a role when they are onstage. Offstage, they are completely different in speech and conduct!
Jesus further made his point with two illustrations. He first compared the Pharisees to dirty dishes. Can you imagine drinking and eating from dinnerware that was clean on the outside, but dirty on the inside? What a disgusting prospect! Jesus said that the Pharisees were full of greed and self-indulgence. We know from other scriptures that the Pharisees certainly were greedy as we are told that they “devoured widows’ houses” (Luke 20:47), perhaps appealing to the generosity of the lonely and swindling them of their savings. Likewise we know that the Pharisees were self-indulgent, as they enjoyed a position of respect and privilege (Luke 20:46) all while they pretended to be pious.
Along the same lines, Jesus compared the Pharisees to whitewashed tombs. No matter how beautiful or tidy a mausoleum appears on the outside, these structures are monuments to the death and decay they hold within. The Pharisees merely made a show of being righteous and therefore Jesus essentially says that they were dead and unclean on the inside.
We know that God is concerned not with outward appearances, but rather the content of our hearts. He looks at us from the inside out. He knows us through and through. He knows our motives and intentions whether they be good or ill.
1 Samuel 16:7 … For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
Are we – like the Pharisees – concerned with appearances only? Are we righteous on the outside only? Are we seeking the approval of men or God?
Matthew 6:1, 5 Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven… And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
I hope that we are not focused on shallow, short-term rewards like impressing those around us, but that we are sincere in our works and worship. I hope that we are focused on truly serving the Lord, in word in thought and in deed, outward and inward. I hope that we are focused on the ultimate reward…
Proverbs 11:8 The wicked man does deceptive work, But he who sows righteousness will have a sure reward.
Conclusion: “How will You Escape?”
Jesus concluded his sermon with a very pointed statement: “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” Matthew 23:33
Notice that Jesus spoke with compassion to the worst of sinners, but he ripped right into the religious hypocrites! This calls for us all to examine ourselves!
Are we shutting the Kingdom? Do we seek to impose additional rules to enter Heaven? Or do we preach only from God’s Word?
Are we deceitful? Do we look for loopholes? Or do we seek to obey God with sincerity?
Do we neglect the heart of the Gospel? Are we focused on minor rule-keeping? Or are we more concerned with the mercy, compassion and justice that God truly cares about?
Are we guilty of hypocrisy? Do we make a show of being righteous? Or do we truly desire to please God?
Looking back at Jesus’ first public lesson, Jesus warned against becoming like the Pharisees…
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
So how do we attain a righteousness beyond that of the Pharisees?
The Bible tells us that the righteousness of God comes through Christ alone!
Romans 3:21-22 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
We allow Christ to become our righteousness through living by faith and allowing Him to reign over our heart!
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Sunday, August 20, 2017
My wife and I will have been married 6 years in October. In that time we’ve had two houses, one dog, a little girl, and countless adventures.
Like any couple, we’ve had our own challenges that we’ve faced together. But if I could do it all over again, I would gladly say those vows once more!
When I first presented this lesson Brandie and I had just gotten married. I wrote in the introduction to that original draft that the responsibilities of the big commitment hadn’t fully sunk in yet, but that I was praying I would be able to do my best to uphold the weight of those vows I swore to uphold to both Brandie and our God.
Of course, to many people marriage is a commitment that is just too big to take on and they’ll actively flee it or – if they even got married to begin with – they may dismiss their spouse at the first sign of trouble… As students of the Bible we of course know that marriage is meant to be a life-long commitment.
Mark 10:6-9 But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
However, unfortunately, people don’t seem to care much about commitment in today’s world. Whether it’s in business deals, marriages or simply promises made to friends, “commitment” is a word that’s sadly become empty and devoid of its meaning.
Earthly Commitments and Spiritual Commitments
But whether we take them seriously or not, we make commitments on almost a daily basis. We pledge to repay loans, make payments with credit cards, and make promises without even thinking about it at times.
However, Jesus urges us to not make promises or pledges to others.
Matthew 5:33-37 Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
If we make a promise that we can’t keep, we have made ourselves into liars! As Jesus said, we should let our “Yes” be “Yes” and our “No” be “No.” But if we do make pledges, oaths, or other Earthly commitments we are obligated to uphold them! Likewise, if we make a spiritual commitment, we are obliged to uphold it!
Becoming a Christian is a spiritual commitment. When we became Christians, we committed our lives to Christ! In doing so, we committed ourselves to a life in service to God. Surely, this is a commitment we can't afford to take lightly!
Ephesians 4:1-3 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…
Like most commitments, there are a lot of duties that go accompany the original pledge. I would like to discuss just a few of the obligations that accompany a Christian’s commitment to Christ.
• Obligations to the Church and Fellow Christians
As Christians we should be encouraging and uplifting to our brothers and sisters in the faith.
Colossians 3:15-16 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
One of the most discouraging things to a Christian is for them to see other Christians not coming to church on a regular basis. Therefore regular church attendance is not only for worshipping God, but also for edification of our fellow saints.
Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
• Obligations to the Poor
We have an obligation to be charitable, in particular to needy saints, but also to any we may encounter who need help.
1 Timothy 6:18-19 Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
• Obligations to Unbelievers
We should be a good example and share the Gospel with others.
Matthew 5:13-16 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
• Obligations to Family
The Bible teaches that everyone in the family unit has special role to fulfill.
Colossians 3:18-20 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.
Mutual love and respect are the foundation of a family’s commitment to each other.
Ephesians 5:25-29 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.
• Above All: Obligations to God!!!
Of course, above all, Christians have the biggest obligation to God. The great thing about our commitment to Christ is that all of those other obligations just seem to fall in place if we have an enduring love for God and a fervent desire to obey His will.
Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Just as Paul pointed out in Romans, as followers of Christ we are to present ourselves as living sacrifices.
Think about what that means. We should be dead to the world and living for God, giving Him our all.
However, when we commit, we give everything! Christians are committed to God Himself and He, above all other, above everything else, deserves all that we have! We need to remember that and keep our priorities straight in this life if we want to be true servants of God.
Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Are we Lukewarm?
In the book of Revelation we can read of seven different churches, representing nearly every type of congregation one could expect to encounter. One church in particular we would not want to emulate…
Revelation 3:15-16 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
Are we serving Christ with all of our effort? Or are we only partially committed. A true Christian should be “on fire” for Christ.
Convenient is not an adjective one would use to describe commitment. Of course, keeping any kind of earthly commitment is no easy task. Spirtual commitments are no different. Think of all the faithful followers of God in the Bible. Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus Himself! Their commitment to God led them down some rocky paths!
It’s easy to recognize that true commitment requires sacrifice. Christ, of course, is the ultimate example of this truth.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
“Vows Made in Storms”
While Brandie and I were on our honeymoon, I remember reading a sign at one of the restaurants we visited which read:
“Vows made in storms are forgotten in calm waters.”
Let’s examine the truth in this saying for a while.
We’ve all heard stories of unbelievers who encountered some kind of hardship in life. Whether it be a serious illness or financial ruin, the desperate unbeliever may pray to God, “God, if you’ll just get me through this, I swear that I will change my life and live for you.”
Sometimes it works out that they end out coming out of the dire situation just fine and maybe, for a while, it seems the unbeliever really did turn their life around for God. But eventually, once the tribulation is forgotten, they go right back to the life they were living before. The vow they made in the storm was forgotten in the calm waters.
I think the opposite can be true also: Vows made in calm waters can be forgotten in storms.
It’s really easy to be a Christian when everything is right with the world. But the moment that things get hard whether it be poor health or persecution of some form or whatever, when things get hard, people will unfortunately forfeit their commitment to God.
Let’s strive to remember God always, whether it is in calm or stormy waters.
After all, God is committed to us; shouldn’t we be committed to Him?
Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
Joel 2:31 The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.
Tomorrow the United States will experience its first total solar eclipse in nearly 100 years.
During this rare astronomical event, the Moon will be positioned between the Earth and Sun. A total solar eclipse is only visible within a limited area, one has to be at the right location at the right time to view the phenomenon. On Monday, the 10,000 mile long, 100 mile wide shadow of the Moon will travel over a narrow path stretching across the continent, all the way from Oregon to South Carolina.
As the Moon passes in front of the Sun spectators can expect a 360 degree “sunrise”, a nearly 10 degree drop in temperature, and the arousal of nocturnal creatures such as crickets confused by the occurrence, responding to what they perceive as night.
In ancient cultures, the eclipse was viewed as an omen of terrible things to come and the period of darkness was met with a sense of dread. Indeed, even today there are some proclaiming that the upcoming eclipse is some kind of sign of impending doom for our nation.
However, as eerie and ominous as the spectacle of the eclipse promises to be, we can rest assured that at the end of it all the Sun’s light will inevitably make its return, shining just as bright and glorious as ever.
Likewise, we would do well to remember that our almighty God cannot be conquered!
The Darkness of Golgotha
Luke 23:44-45 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed…
Literally and metaphorically, one of the darkest days in the history of the world took place during Christ’s crucifixion. The darkness that lasted three hours on that terrible day has no natural explanation.
The sky went black at what should have been the brightest time of day (the “sixth hour” being noon). Examining the historical information, we know that this could not have been a solar eclipse. Recall that, according to Hebrew tradition, the Feast of Passover occurred at the time of the full moon. Meanwhile, Science teaches us that solar eclipses only occur during the new moon phase, when the Moon is positioned completely on the other side of the planet.
Certainly this was some kind of supernatural occurrence, as if creation itself mourned the injustice of Jesus’ anguish on the cross.
Whatever the explanation, we read that it was black as midnight at midday when the Son of God died a torturous, humiliating death; rejected by the very people he had come to save.
Surely the Devil must have delighted in the gloom, thinking this to be his crowning achievement… Of course, in just three days’ time the "prince of darkness" would be sorely disappointed to find that what he assumed was his moment of definitive victory would turn out to be his resounding defeat.
Job 5:12-14 He frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end. They meet with darkness in the daytime and grope at noonday as in the night.
Is it coincidental that this verse in Job describes the exact atmospheric conditions on the day of Christ’s death? Perhaps not…
One of the most poignant themes of the Bible is that we’re reminded time and again that God has the ability to turn even the worst situations to His will. That darkest of days on Golgotha was going to reveal the glory of God in a way never before witnessed.
Under God’s control, this ultimate act of evil would accomplish His ultimate outpouring of love. As wicked as man’s hearts and as devious as Satan’s plans were, the glory of Christ could not be extinguished. The darkness would be overcome with light.
We know that Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end. He arose. Christ was resurrected. Putting an end to the final enemy – death itself – Jesus denied Satan his triumph.
Hebrews 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…
1 Corinthians 15:55-57 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through the giving of His precious blood in this ultimate sacrifice, we no longer have to fear death. Christ provided a means of redemption and forgiveness for all who seek it. No longer would mankind be doomed to eternal separation from God, for in Christ humanity would have glorious hope of being reunited with their Creator in Heaven!
Colossians 2:13-15 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
God’s Power and Promises
Indeed, the cross stands as the ultimate example of these timeless truths: Attempting to overthrow God is futile and God keeps His Word.
No enemy can stand against God. No threat can defeat Him. As the Creator of all, there is no power beyond Him.
Job 26:5-14 The dead tremble under the waters and their inhabitants. Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering. He stretches out the north over the void and hangs the earth on nothing. He binds up the waters in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not split open under them. He covers the face of the full moon and spreads over it his cloud. He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness. The pillars of heaven tremble and are astounded at his rebuke. By his power he stilled the sea; by his understanding he shattered Rahab. By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent. Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?
Throughout history, God’s power is demonstrated time and again. Think back to the many military victories of the ancient Israelites against overwhelming odds. Consider the endurance of the Bible and the resilience of the church through the ages, despite the world’s attempt to snuff out Christianity even to this day.
Likewise, we know that the almighty God keeps His promises. Though it may be on His timeline and not our own, our longsuffering God makes good on His word.
2 Peter 3:8-9 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you…
We read that many of the disciples fled when Jesus was arrested. Only but a few lingered during His crucifixion. An even smaller number would visit His tomb expecting Him to return as He said He would. During the darkness that covered the land at the time of Christ’s death, His followers must have felt a deep sense of despair. Perhaps they worried that with Jesus dead, His promises died with Him. And yet we see throughout the Bible that sometimes God would take entire generations to fulfill His promises.
The promise of Jesus’s coming extends back as far as Genesis 12 when God made His three covenants with Abraham. God told Abraham that through him “all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3). While Abraham would not see God’s final promise fulfilled within his lifetime. Indeed it would be nearly 2000 years from the time God made the initial promise to Abraham until Jesus was finally born. Christ’s disciples only had to wait three days for Jesus to return to life!
Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations…
Therefore, we must always remember that even when circumstances are at their most dire and the world is at its darkest, there is always hope if we have God.
The Light of Living Hope
Peter reminds us that no matter what darkness we face, we need not lose hope in God.
1 Peter 1:3-6 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…
He called the hope in Christ a “living hope”. Consider that this phrase is different from our normal use of the word. We typically think of hope as being a desire for something in the future, something we are uncertain that we will attain.
However, we know the power of our God. We know that He keeps His promises. Therefore, the kind of hope we read of in the New Testament is a far deeper, more confident hope.
Hebrews 6:11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end…
Certainly, this hope is put to the test at dark times. It’s always disturbing to consider that we as Christians will face persecution for doing what is right. But God promises that our suffering is temporary and that He will be with us through it all.
Romans 8:28, 31-39 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose… What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Yes, the Bible tells us that ultimate victory will belong to God and those who trust in Him.
Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?
"Let Your Light So Shine"
As we have seen, God’s light cannot be eclipsed. In fact, recall that very first act of creation was God bringing forth light…
Genesis 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God’s been at the business of defeating darkness pretty much the whole time!
He loves us so much that He was willing to come in the flesh and be sacrificed in our place. The darkness witnessed on the day that Jesus was crucified was only temporary. God was able to transform something truly awful into the most awesome blessing we could hope to receive: redemption.
We read of His power and longsuffering promises. Trusting God and having hope in Him, we need not fear even the darkest of days. As long as we have the light of the Lord in our hearts, He will be with us.
But let’s not be selfish with that light.
Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
One need only watch the nightly news to recognize that our world is engulfed in darkness. Humanity desperately needs the light that only hope in Christ can bring, so let’s be sure to share it with the world around us! Don’t let your light be eclipsed!
Monday, July 3, 2017
Matthew 4:9 “…All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
This was a verse that was actually printed on one of those "daily inspiration" calendars.
At first glance, this verse sounds pretty inspiring, but there’s just one problem… Do you know what it is?
Yup. These words seem pretty uplifting and comforting until you realize that it was Satan who was speaking! This knowledge makes that particular verse a little less inspiring doesn’t it?
Thus, we see that there is a danger in taking even just a single Bible verse out of context.
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
The Apostle Paul admonishes us to handle God’s Word in the correct way.
Many, it seems, when they study the Bible look at it in such a way that every Bible verse is independent of the rest of the text. They may even attempt to interpret a single verse on its own, without any kind of reference to what came before or after. While many of our Bibles are indeed subdivided into books, chapters, and verses, we understand that single verses are part of a greater whole.
It’s been said that people can use the Bible “to prove just about anything”. With an irreverent, scattershot approach that certainly can be the case!
For example: Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” in John 15:14. Jesus told Judas, “What you do, do quickly” in John 13:27. Judas, we are told, “departed, and went and hanged himself” in Matthew 27:5. Finally, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise” in Luke 10:37. By selectively using quotes, we arrive at a conclusion that we know is incorrect – that Jesus wants followers to commit suicide.*
In a more serious and tragic real-world example we know that in our nation’s own history that the Bible was used in such a way by some to attempt to justify slavery. While it is true that slavery is mentioned in the Bible, the New Testament did not teach Christians to enslave one another (In fact, in Philemon, Paul wrote with the intention of freeing the runaway slave Onesimus).
How many souls have been misled due to taking verses out of context, whether intentionally or otherwise? How many false doctrines have been founded based upon twisting God’s Word to say something actually contrary to God’s will? We see that not taking context into consideration could lead to serious consequences.
2 Peter 3:15-16 ...And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.
Therefore, as good students of God’s Word we need to consider each of the following in regards to context: What is the immediate context? Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to? Is it found in the Old or New Testament? What is the historical, geographical, and cultural context?
If you are having difficulty understanding a particular passage, the solution may be as simple as reading a bit backwards or forwards in the text.
A good clue that further reading might be required is found in looking at the grammar. Sometimes a verse cuts off the ending of a thought short, perhaps ending in a comma rather than a period. Obviously, this means you need to read a bit further to get the complete statement.
Likewise, look to see if a verse you’re reading begins with a transition word such as therefore, however, then, thus, moreover, nevertheless, so, etc. If this is the case, then you probably need to read a verse or two before. These parts of speech connect ideas in phrases and they don’t usually occur unless they are referring to a previous idea. In other words, as an old saying goes: “When you come to a ‘therefore’, you should check to see what it is THERE FOR!”
Let’s return to a verse we purposefully used out of context earlier: In Luke 10:37, Jesus can be quoted saying, “Go and do likewise.”
Go and do what???
The usage of the word “likewise” implies that Jesus is referring to something he had said earlier. If you go back far enough in this chapter, you see that Jesus was having a conversation with a “certain lawyer” who was questioning Him (Luke 10:25-29). Reading further, we see that Jesus answers the man’s questions by telling him the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-36), essentially teaching that we should treat all with mercy and love. So at the conclusion of this conversation, Jesus told the lawyer that he should “go and do likewise” – meaning that he should follow the example of the Good Samaritan in the parable.
As you can see, when we’re examining smaller passages, we must be aware of their place within context of the larger paragraph, chapter, or even the entire book!
Who Said It?
Some people think that you can just take any scripture from the Bible and safely assume that it is God speaking. Indeed, the Word of God is inspired by God, but consider the fact that not everyone who speaks in the Bible is an inspired writer!
I’ll never forget the sermon in which our longtime preacher, John Baxter, made a very provocative statement attention: “Not everything in the Bible is true.” The tense uneasiness in the congregation was almost audible as his words hung in the air for just a moment – surely meant for emphasis – that felt like an awkward eternity. One might think that this was a sacrilegious declaration, but as he would go on to point out, sometimes within the context of a passage we find that the person speaking is unreliable.
As we saw earlier in Matthew 4, it could very well be the devil speaking within in the context of a passage!
In Matthew 12:24 the Pharisees said that Jesus was aligned with Satan. But we know that the Pharisees were unreliable because they often plotted against Jesus and sought to “entangle Him in His talk.” (Matthew 22:15)
Colossians 2:21 tells us, “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle…”, but we see that this was Paul quoting rules of men in this passage, comparing them to the grace of Christ’s law.
Job’s wife famously said, “Curse God and die” in Job 2:9 - clearly this is not godly advice!
Compare these examples to a verse like John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” We know that we can trust these words since they came from the Son of God Himself!
We can also trust the words of the Apostles, knowing that these were men who were appointed by Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Thorough study reveals that their teachings align with the rest of Scripture.
1 Corinthians 14:37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.
To Whom Was It Said?
Likewise, it is important to notice to whom a statement was made in Scripture. Who was the intended audience?
In Genesis 6 we see God giving the instructions for the building of the Ark. Who were these instructions given to? Noah, of course! Obviously, God does not expect us to build an Ark today. These directions were intended for Noah alone as we can easily discern based on the context.
Applying this same logic, we can easily differentiate between statements meant for a particular individual, a specific group or for everyone for all of time.
Studying the context, we know that John 14:25-26 was directed at the Apostles specifically to prepare them for the forthcoming Day of Pentecost (Acts 1-2).
These are very specific, time-bound circumstances Jesus was relating to those directly present. Thus, we see that not every passage is meant for Christians today.
However, we know that John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” – is meant to be a broad statement directed toward all of mankind henceforth. We all have the chance at salvation through Christ’s love for mankind.
Old or New Testament?
Along these same lines, it’s also imperative to consider which part of the Bible you are reading from. The Bible is divided into two Testaments (Laws or Covenants), the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is only through a thorough study of the Bible as a whole that one can clearly see that teachings of each Testament are meant for completely different groups of believers of completely different times.
A mature student of the Bible understands that today we are under the New Testament, not the Old Testament. In fact, two entire books of the Bible – Romans and Galatians – were written by Paul to address the fact that salvation from sin is through the Gospel of Christ, not through the Law of Moses.
Galatians 2:21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.
We are taught that the Old Testament came to an end as Christ died on the cross, ushering in the New Testament in its place.
Hebrews 9:15-16 And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.
The transition between the Old Testament to the New Testament can be very confusing for unstudied believers and unbelievers alike, leading to some unfortunate misunderstandings.
Christians should know that the Old Testament laws – including those pertaining to worship – were done completely away with. Therefore we cannot use the passages out of context from the Old Testament to justify the continued practice of outdated worship such as observance of the Sabbath or circumcision. In fact, we are explicitly warned that we can no longer follow any part of the Old Testament that has been put away.
Galatians 5:3-4 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
On the other hand, a favorite ploy of those seeking to make believers out to be hypocrites is to point out that they don’t follow the “whole” Bible. They might say, “You don’t believe in gay marriage because of Leviticus? Well, I bet you ignore the part where it commands to not eat shellfish!”
Such a statement reveals a lack of understanding regarding the continuation of certain aspects of God’s Law throughout the Bible. Diligent students of the Scriptures understand that some laws are consistent throughout the entirety of God’s Word, extending onward even into the present New Testament age. Various forms of sexual immorality – including homosexuality – are forbade by God in both the Old and New Testaments. These have always been wrong in the eyes of God… along with various other sins that no reasonable person would ever debate such as lying, idol worship, murder, etc.
Meanwhile - as we have already established - the majority of laws found the Old Testament are not upheld by Christians because they were repealed in the New Testament. For example, Acts 10:9-16 does away with dietary restrictions, while 1 Timothy 4:1-5 also speaks against such. Likewise there are social laws pertaining to crime and punishment, warfare, slavery, circumcision, animal sacrifice, feast days, ritual cleanness, etc. observed by the Israelites that Christians are under no obligation to uphold under the New Testament.
It is Christ and His New Covenant that, thank God, we are under today.
Hebrews 1:1-2 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.
Historical, Geographical, and Cultural Context
In many ways, the Bible is an historical book. Despite what skeptics may suggest, the events contained within the Bible took place within the real world. In fact, archaeologists have been known to use the Bible’s geographical descriptions to find various ruins – which serve to further the Bible’s credibility as an historical text.
Within the pages of the Bible we read of descriptions of life in ancient Egypt, Babylon, and the Roman Empire. Notable historical figures such as Pharaohs, ancient kings, and government officials are mentioned within the text, sometimes even interacting within Biblical characters directly.
Therefore, it would certainly be beneficial to learn about the history, culture, and even geography of events in the Bible.
Examining a map of the region allows one to gain an appreciation for the journeys of the Israelites as they wandered the wilderness, Jesus’ earthly ministry through ancient Israel, and Paul’s missionary journeys around the Mediterranean.
Similarly, gaining an understanding of the culture of the times provides perspective of the times and helps one to gain new insights into Biblical truths.
In regards to cultural context, a good example is Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. To fully appreciate the impact of this parable it helps to know just who the Samaritans were.
During Jesus’ time the Samaritans had complicated relationship with the Jews that extended back to Old Testament times (Samaritans are mentioned as far back in the Bible as 1 Kings). Apparently the Samaritans would associate themselves with the Jews when convenient, taking advantage of their common heritage and worshiping God. However, the Samaritans had a reputation of abandoning the Jews when they were being persecuted or conquered, reverting back to idol worship. Thus, the Samaritans were considered social outcasts at best, hated enemies of the Jews at worst. The Samaritans were considered a “mixed race” and subject to much racist and nationalistic ridicule by the Jews. This knowledge makes one realize how shocking Jesus’ parable must have been to the original audience; He made a “no good” Samaritan the hero of His story!
Obviously, some of this may require additional study in supplementary resources such as a Bible dictionary or atlas.
When you set out to read any secular book, you don’t just flip to the middle, read a single sentence, and then turn to some other random section and do the same. Yet how many Bible studies must look like this to an outsider?
If all of our Bible study consists of selective quotes then we’re definitely going to miss out on the author’s intended purpose and probably misinterpret what was meant to be said!
Of course, the best way to study the Bible in context is to read it as it was meant to be read… As a whole.
Acts 20:27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.
Starting with Genesis and concluding with Revelation, reading the Bible from cover-to-cover as an ongoing narrative reveals the cohesive, epic story of God’s love for mankind, humanity’s ongoing rejection of God, and God’s longsuffering, ultimate plan for the redemption of the human race through His Son, Jesus Christ.
* Excerpt from : “Keeping the Context”
Sunday, April 23, 2017
In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul spoke of the lost as being “dead in sin”. We understand that one is dead in sin when they willfully choose to embrace the lusts of the flesh. Through their disobedience they are doomed to a bleak fate with the way of sin only leading to destruction (Matthew 7:13).
Even though we deserve punishment for our former life, God is loving and merciful. It is by His grace He allowed us a means of escape from condemnation. Through the sacrifice of Christ, God forgives our sin, thereby making us “alive” so that we may stand before Him redeemed!
Ephesians 2:4-7 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
In a turn of that phrase – “dead in sin” – Paul also spoke of the concept of one being “dead to sin”… This particular phrase refers to one who has accepted Christ as their Savior!
Dead in Sin versus Dead to Sin
Romans 6:11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
One word makes a big difference! Being “dead in sin” is very different from being “dead to sin”. As we have seen, being “dead in sin” is a hopeless situation in which the unrepentant are condemned in their sins, eternally separated from God. Meanwhile, being “dead to sin” offers us redemption, a path to eternal life through God’s grace.
So how do we go from being “dead in sin” to being “dead to sin”?
In Romans 6 Paul related the act of baptism - the avenue by which God provides the remission of sins - to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
Romans 6:3-7 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.
As we will see through this lesson, God desires us to be “dead to sin” so that we will have freedom from sin and be once more “alive” in His eyes. We will find that being dead to sin requires some effort on our part, but that, ultimately, it is being dead to sin that offers us hope for the future.
Freedom from Sin
When one is dead to sin, they are no longer controlled by sin.
Romans 6:6 Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
To the unbelieving of the world, sin might be frowned upon at best, and it is very unpopular to condemn sin outright. In our society especially morals seem to be subjective. We know all too well that some sins are celebrated as a sort of freedom.
But to one who has committed their life to Christ, sin is recognized for what it truly is: Tyranny. When were in sin, we were enslaved by our own desires.
Romans 6:7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.
Through God’s grace manifested by Christ’s sacrifice, we are granted freedom from our sin.
A New Creation with a New Purpose
Upon rising up from the waters of baptism, a Christian has been cleansed of their former sin. We stand before God renewed… A new creation with a new purpose!
2 Corinthians 5:17-18 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…
Some on the verge of accepting Christ find themselves discouraged at the prospect of giving up sin. This is a spiritually shortsighted attitude! It’s important to realize that God offers us something so much better than the temporary pleasures of sin. Not only are we putting away our former desires but we are allowing God to replace them. Through Christ’s redeeming power we are made new once more!
Romans 12:1-2 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
The phrase “living sacrifices” would seem at first glance to be a paradox; After all, sacrifices do not live, they die.
But this is a great analogy for the kind of life a Christian should strive toward. Our devotion to Christ should be so deep that we readily put away our own desires. A dramatic metamorphosis should occur. In becoming Christians we should no longer desire to please ourselves, but God!
Colossians 3:1-4 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set you mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him glory.
Our mindset should change completely and we should live a life that emulates the life of Christ.
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Aspiring to be Christ-like requires great commitment on our part. As we have read, we ought to set our mind on the pursuit of righteousness, doing the will of God. Accordingly, we should actively be avoiding sin!
Understand that a new Christian will still face temptation, it’s not like being cleansed from your former sin makes one immune to future temptation. Being imperfect, we will still be tempted. We will stumble in our Christian walk. We will – unfortunately – sin.
(We shouldn’t be discouraged by this as God lets us know that we will not be tempted beyond what we are able to withstand - 1 Corinthians 10:13)
But as a new creation set upon a new purpose, we will grow in strength as we develop as Christians. We will dwell upon godly principles (Psalm 1:1-3, Philippians 4:8) and thereby completely change the way we think about the world, the way we approach certain situations. Our attitude will attune to God’s will. We will find certain temptations easier and easier to overcome until they are no longer enticing to us at all. With time we will develop a distaste and intolerance for sinful behavior (2 Timothy 2:22).
However, we cannot allow this newfound confidence to become self-righteousness. And we certainly cannot allow ourselves to take God’s forgiveness for granted, especially not to the point that we misuse it as a license to sin!
Romans 6:1-2 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
In this passage Paul was rebuking Christians who sought to use God’s grace as an excuse to return to a life of sin. What an awful attitude to have, treating the sacrifice of Christ so irreverently as to casually return to sin, perhaps thinking, “Well, God will just forgive me anyway…”
Peter described just how disgusting it would be to willingly return to the depravity of sin.
2 Peter 2:20-22 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
Returning to a life of sin after being forgiven would be like Christ abandoning the glory of His resurrection only to return to the despair of the grave.
Romans 6:10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
We must not return to our former life of sin, for in doing so we foolishly forfeit our salvation, rejecting the gift of God (Romans 6:23).
Created for Good Works
Therefore, our new purpose should be set upon pleasing the Lord and doing His will through good works.
Of course, in doing these good works, we must always remember that our salvation is attained by works.
Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Indeed we are saved by God’s grace. However, God expects an obedient faith (James 1:22).
1 Corinthians 6:20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
Therefore we work as “instruments of righteousness” not to be saved, but because we are saved!
Romans 6:12-14 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
Alive to God
As we read in Romans 6:11, to be dead to sin is to be “alive to God”.
Let’s attempt to tie together all of the figurative language:
When one decides to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior, they repent of their former life of sin… They put to death the self-serving life of sin that they once led. They become dead to sin. But that’s not the end of the story. As one reborn through baptism, they are a new creation likened to the resurrected Christ.
Romans 6:8 -9 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.
Just as Christ won’t die anymore now that He has been resurrected, neither will we. Being alive to God is a blessing while we live in the flesh and onward into eternity.
John 10:10 I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
As Jesus points out, through Him our earthly life will be enriched greatly.
No longer burdened by sin and diligently resisting temptation, a faithful Christian lives a fulfilling life with a clear conscience before God (1 Peter 3:21), enjoys the spiritual blessings God offers (Ephesians 1:3), and now has a hopeful future to look forward to as he is guaranteed an eternal home with Jesus!
John 6:40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
Saturday, April 15, 2017
With so many celebrating the Easter holiday this week, millions around the world - believers and non-believers - are reminded of Jesus' death, burial, and - most importantly - His resurrection.
The Significance of the Resurrection
Jesus’ resurrection is the single most important event in the Bible. Our Lord’s victory over death is the very foundation of our faith.
1 Corinthians 15:17-19 …If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
As Paul pointed out, if Christ had not been resurrected, our faith would be useless. We would still be in our sins. Life would be as meaningless - and, therefore, hopeless - as unbelievers contend. There would be no point to us being Christians.
However, as Paul goes on to state, Christ was resurrected. He is risen. We serve a living Savior who overcame death.
God Wants Us to be Informed
I think it’s a great misconception that faith ought to be blind. Time and again, the Bible tells us that God wants us to be informed and search out evidences for ourselves.
Proverbs 3:13 (NIV) Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
Aside from that, Christians need evidence in order to convince others and lead them to the Truth.
1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…
Keeping that in mind, let us examine 5 evidences that make the case for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Evidence #1 – Secular History
Many skeptics will point out that Bible evidence for the very existence of Jesus – including His death and subsequent resurrection – is questionable because of its inherent bias. Of course the Bible, a book claiming to be the Word of God, would confirm itself as true a skeptic might say in questioning the validity of the Gospels.
Indeed, due to wars, pillaging, and simple deterioration of various writings and artifacts, there is a severe lack of information about the life of Jesus to be found. In fact, few writings from the time of Christ exist at all, even information about important secular leaders of the time such as Julius Caesar, and yet no historian would question the existence of Caesar!
However, Historian Darrell Bock notes that since He wasn’t a great political or military leader that “It is amazing and significant that Jesus shows up at all in the sources we have.”
The sources available today include the writings of Jewish and Roman historians, Roman officials, and pagan sources, none of which would have any reason to want to further the influence of Christianity.
It is through these early non-Christian sources that the following facts about Jesus’ life are confirmed:
• Jesus was from Nazareth
• Jesus lived a wise and virtuous life.
• Jesus’ enemies acknowledged that He performed unusual feats.
• Jesus was crucified in Judea under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at the time of Passover, being considered the Jewish King.
• Jesus was believed by His disciples to have died and risen from the dead three days later.
It’s truly as Paul said to King Agrippa, the things Jesus did were “not done in a corner!” (Acts 26:26)
Evidence #2 – The Empty Tomb
Establishing the reliability of the Bible through the verification of outside, secular sources, let’s examine some of the physical evidence detailed in the Scriptures.
John 20:1-7 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Peter therefore went out, and the other disciple, and were going to the tomb. So they both ran together, and the other disciple outran Peter and came to the tomb first. And he, stooping down and looking in, saw the linen cloths lying there; yet he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; and he saw the linen cloths lying there, and the handkerchief that had been around His head, not lying with the linen cloths, but folded together in a place by itself.
Reading this section of verses, it would be easy for skeptics to argue that since believers of Jesus found the tomb empty that their testimony is biased and therefore unreliable. However, it is important to note that even the enemies of Christ – the Pharisees and others – never denied that the tomb was found empty.
It is also significant that the first people to discover the empty tomb were women. Taking into consideration historical norms of the Greco-Roman culture of the day this detail is especially noteworthy. As sexist as it may sound today, in this ancient society the testimony of women was not considered reliable.
Therefore, if the Gospel writers were merely making things up surely they would not have reported that it was women who found the empty tomb. Wouldn’t they have written that it was men instead that made this discovery so as to make their story more believable in that day and age? However, we read in the Gospels what actually happened as reported by those who were actually there, regardless of the cultural taboos of the day.
Many have sought to explain away the evidence of the empty tomb with various theories such as the body of Jesus was stolen or that Jesus wasn’t actually dead to begin with. These theories are all easily debunked however.
Take for example the “Stolen Body” theory: Jesus’ enemies – namely the Pharisees of the Sanhedrin – actually feared that something of this sort would happen, that one of Jesus’ disciples would try to steal His body in order to make the claim that He had been resurrected.
The disciples, however, seem to have little to no motivation for doing this. In fact, it would seem that the Pharisees had more faith in Jesus’ declaration that He would live again than some of His closest followers. We read that many of the disciples weren’t even present at the tomb that Jesus was revealed to be resurrected (Luke 24:13). This is further indicated a lack of faith by expressing disappointment that Jesus had not delivered on His promise (Luke 24:21).
The Pharisees however, were taking no chances, so they took precautions and asked that the tomb be sealed and that Roman guards be stationed at the entrance of the tomb to prevent the stealing of Jesus’ body. Based on Roman military protocol of the day, historians estimate the number of soldiers guarding the tomb being anywhere from at least 4 to a dozen to possibly even more. On top of that, keep in mind that Jesus was put to death and buried during the Passover feast, at time at which there were thousands of Jews camping in the surrounding area.
Taking all of this into consideration, the notion that a group of disciples boldly snuck up on these soldiers, rolled away the 1-2 ton stone at the mouth of the tomb and stole Jesus’ body all without being seen or heard by someone is highly unlikely.
Evidence #3 – Post-Resurrection Appearances
It would be all-too-easy to refute the story of Jesus’ resurrection if no one ever saw Him again. However, we have documentation that people not only saw the resurrected Jesus, but also touched, walked with, ate with, and talked with Him!
Jesus appeared to His disciples on numerous occasions following His resurrection. Recall that Jesus was among them for 40 days after His resurrection.
Acts 1:1-3 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
The Apostle Thomas famously doubted that Jesus was actually alive again until encouraged by Jesus to touch Him.
John 20:24-28 Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Some of Jesus’ own disciples supposed that Jesus’ resurrection – if it took place at all – was going to be a sort of ghostly manifestation in keeping with the Jewish belief that the spirit lingered after the body died. Taking this evidence into account, however we know that Jesus’ resurrection was not merely a spiritual resurrection, but a physical one.
In fact, hundreds of witnesses saw Jesus at one time following His resurrection!
1 Corinthians 15:6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
Modern psychologists have confirmed that this could not be could be a case of “mass hallucination”, that all these witnesses merely imagined Jesus among them. His appearing to so many witnesses in the flesh confirmed that He was indeed alive once more!
In a court of law we find ourselves convinced by eye-witness accounts, people who were actually there. Why then would we question the testimony of those who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus?
Evidence #4 – The Radical Transformation of the Disciples and Others
Consider for a moment the life and character of Peter and the other disciples as recorded in the earlier parts of the Gospels.
We read over and over that these eleven men were often proved to be fairly ignorant of the scriptures and slow learners (Even to the point that Jesus Himself actually got frustrated with them on more than one occasion!). They would jump to brash conclusions and were downright self-righteous at times. Additionally, they exhibited inconsistent faith time and time again and were even shown to be cowardly, fleeing for their lives as Jesus was being taken away.
How is it then that these same men would so suddenly become such knowledgeable and bold evangelists responsible for spearheading a religious movement that would go on to last some 2000 years and counting? Something very real happened to them that transformed their lives!
Perhaps the best example of such a drastic 180-degree turn is that of Paul. Previously known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul was once an extremely devout Pharisee and one of the harshest persecutors of the early church. A religious zealot, Paul was responsible for having many Christians imprisoned and even put to death.
However, on the road to Damascus, Paul encountered Jesus. While this was not Jesus in the physical form as we previously discussed, this was no mere subjective vision. Paul’s travelling companions also perceived the bright light and voice of Jesus as He appeared to Paul (Acts 9:7, 22:9). After meeting the Lord, Paul repented of his wicked ways and became a changed man. He went on to become a great leader of the early church and wrote the bulk of the New Testament.
Many unbelievers claim that all religions – including Christianity – only exist to control the masses and that they are all ultimately based upon some kind of lie. But by the world’s standards, what did the Apostles have to gain in preaching Christ? In the physical sense they had nothing to gain and everything to lose! The disciples never gained worldly riches from their evangelical work, and yet they were willing to face imprisonment, exile, torture, and even death in order to preach Jesus! This simply isn’t something that anyone would be willing to do if it was all simply based upon lie.
The fact is they knew that Christ truly had risen from the dead!
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
Evidence #5 – The Birth and Growth of the Church
It was during the first century that the church was established and it wasn’t long before the movement exploded onto the scene. This wasn’t merely some short-lived cult; it was a huge movement that came suddenly and hasn’t gone away since. The church positively thrived in the first century and beyond.
From the beginning the Church saw a huge, instantaneous shift in the religious landscape of the day. The Day of Pentecost was a major turning point. Occurring 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection and just 9 days after His ascension into Heaven, thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Many of those present had been witnesses to Jesus’ ministry, His crucifixion, and resurrection. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter addressed the crowd. Notice the reaction of this huge crowd after hearing the first Gospel sermon.
Acts 2:40-41 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.
Following the church’s establishment, the Christian faith continued to gain incredible momentum. It wasn’t long before Christianity would become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, impressively overthrowing pagan practices that had went on for centuries.
In our modern era, we see movements spring up almost overnight thanks to our advanced transportation and communication technology. However, Christianity spread like wildfire without the aid these modern devices.
Only something as compelling and persuasive and real as Jesus’ resurrection could account for this widespread conversion.
Responding to the Resurrection – “What Shall We Do?”
Regardless of the evidences we have discussed today, ultimately, it all comes down to faith…
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
John 20:29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
However, God requires more than just mere faith. There is a call for obedient action on our part. Recall on the Day of Pentecost that the crowd was moved by Peter’s sermon.
Acts 2:36-38 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Perhaps, like those gathered on the Day of Pentecost, you find yourself convinced that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior who overcame death through the resurrection.
Perhaps you likewise find yourself “cut to the heart” in recognizing that you are guilty of sin and that you desire God’s forgiveness.
If that is the case then you will want to know the answer that Peter gave to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost, for it is the same offer of salvation that Jesus provides to all of us today…
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit...”