Posts Tagged 'Resurrection'

The Master Multiplier, Part 3

We serve a God who gives. And gives. And gives. He gave us Jesus, who is our salvation. He gives us blessings that cannot be counted; so many they often go unnoticed or unappreciated. God gives us answers to prayer. He gives us life and He sustains our lives. God gives and He miraculously multiplies His gifts to us. That’s why what He provides for us goes further than what we provide for ourselves. And why when we give to Him in the form of offerings or service, our gifts seem to do so much – He multiplies them to accomplish His will! The way God works is, in a word, amazing.

In 1 Corinthians, we discover that God gives His people something in addition to what we’ve already looked at: God gives victory!

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57 | NIV84)

What could be more exciting than than “free victory?” God gives it to us! And yet, your experience has probably demonstrated that most victories are either hard fought or elusive. So what was Paul getting at here? Let’s take a look.

The central fact of Christianity

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central fact of the Christian faith. Had it all ended with His crucifixion, Christianity would be indistinguishable from virtually any other belief system on earth. The Resurrection IS what Christianity is all about. Had our Lord not risen from the dead, there would be no Gospel to preach, no church to start, no hope for the future. It’s hard to imagine a Christian who would seriously doubt or question the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and yet during the very early days of the Church, the Resurrection was doubted and questioned and the question as to whether or not it actually happened threatened to rip apart the Body of Christ.

1 Corinthian 15 is Paul’s brilliant defense of the Resurrection, and though volumes could be written about what Paul taught in this chapter, I’ll just barely glance at the highlights. The first thing Paul wanted his friends to understand was that the Gospel they received; the one they believed in by faith; the one that proclaimed the Resurrection, was the one that changed their lives.

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1, 2 | NIV84)

No matter what other teachings these people may have heard after they received the Gospel, it’s the Gospel Paul wanted them to “hold firmly to.” And why would anybody believer hold any teaching above the Gospel when it was the Gospel that saved them in the first place? Let’s face it, teachings come and go, man’s philosophies wax and wane with generational changes, but the Gospel is constant. The Gospel doesn’t change. A culture doesn’t effect the truth of its teachings. And it’s the Gospel that changes lives.

The Corinthians heard it, they received it by faith, and by that Gospel they took their stand in the world. If a teaching, say a teaching that questions or denies the Resurrection, came along and they believed it, then they wasted their time with the Gospel. In other words, the Corinthians had to accept all the Gospel or none of it. This is not an insignificant concept. A lot of people like parts of the Gospel but hate other parts of it, and they foolishly think believing in some of it is better than nothing at all. Not according to Paul, though. Christianity is an all or nothing proposition; you believe it all or you walk.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…. (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 | NIV84)

Instead of getting all metaphysical, Paul makes it clear the the Resurrection is a historic fact, and he makes three statements in order of importance:

• Christ died for our sins.
• Christ was buried, which means He was dead; He wasn’t pretending to be dead. He wasn’t putting on an act. Jesus Christ’s death was real – it was an accomplished, historical fact that is provable.
• Christ rose again after three days. Interestingly, Paul notes that these three elements of the Gospel are all “according to the Scriptures,” meaning these three points are not made up fables or tall tales told by himself and other apostles.

But with this third point, Paul adds something: Proof positive that the Resurrection took place.

and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:5-8 | NIV84)

Eyewitness, many of whom were still alive at the time he wrote this letter, could attest to the reality of the Resurrection. Skeptics today may balk at this, but in Paul’s day, this was a huge deal. All those eyewitnesses, Paul estimated 500 in all, saw Jesus alive after He had died. And he named names!

Reduction ad Absurdum

Paul used the Scriptures and eyewitness accounts to prove Jesus rose from the dead. Now the apostle goes negative.

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:12 | NIV84)

Since the evidence for the Resurrection is overwhelming, Paul reasons, if even one person has indeed been raised from the dead, how can anybody say that there is no resurrection of the dead? To question this basic fact is to start a chain reaction that in effect nullifies the entire gospel.

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:16-19 | NIV84)

And that’s the crux of the matter; this is why the Resurrection is so important: Without it, we have no hope for the future. Christ’s Resurrection shows that: (1) it is possible for the dead to rise again; (2) Christ will be the first of many who will rise from the dead; (3) that is our hope – that just as death wasn’t the end for Him, it won’t be the end of us, either.

By the way, this is exactly how liberals destroy the Word of God, even today. They deny parts of it – the parts they don’t like; the parts that don’t fit into their particular world-view – but in denying one part, eventually all the parts are called into question. That’s why the Bible in it’s entirety must be accepted, on the basis of faith, to be the complete, true and accurate Word of God.

It’s evident that Paul looked at the doctrine of the Resurrection of Christ as a hopeful thing. I’d wager not many of you look at it that way. Most modern Christians in the West, especially, have it so good and are so comfortable, the idea of being raised from the dead never enters their minds. But these Corinthians didn’t have healthcare. They didn’t enjoy good health. They died young. Yes, even just the mere possibility of resurrection would have given those with a bleak outlook, HOPE.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1 Corinthians 15:17-19 | NIV84)

Without the Resurrection, there is no forgiveness for sins because after all, if the Resurrection is a fable; a mere invention of man’s over-active imagination, then so is the idea of forgiveness, for if you can’t trust the Word of God to be truthful about Resurrection, how can you trust it for anything else? Worse, without the Resurrection of Christ, there would be no resurrection of believers, and that means there’s no future – no hope for any of us.

Christ’s Resurrection and Ours

But, because of His Resurrection, ours is guaranteed:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20 | NIV84)

That’s right, and that’s the hope of every believer; that we won’t die; that we will live on after this life is over. Part of that “living on” has to involve our bodies. Man is a spirit, he has a soul, and he lives in a body – all three parts of man are eternal and God has made provision for all three to live on. The Resurrection (Christ’s and ours) is as certain as death. As death had entered the world through Adam, resurrection entered through Christ. As Adam opened the door to death, so Christ opened the door to resurrection life. But there’s an orderly process to this whole business:

But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:23-26 | NIV84)

Death still reigns today. You might have noticed people are dropping dead all over the world. But we have the hope that until Death is destroyed, God has made provision for His people, as He made provision for His Son. Death may come to you, but the joke is on Death. You’re coming back! Just as death couldn’t hold our Lord, it can’t hold you either. Death is, we might say, an inconvenience; something we have to put up with because of what sin had done to human beings and the world in general.

A special kind of victory

Earlier I said that your body is eternal. It is, yet it isn’t. Paul clarifies the issue of your immortal body beginning at verse 50:

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:50-53 | NIV84)

God’s people are special people, and in keeping with their special place in the Kingdom, they will be given a body that is able to enter into the eternal, spiritual Kingdom of God. Your mortal body would be no good in Heaven. Just like you can’t exist in the water without SCUBA gear, so you can’t exist in Heaven without the appropriate body. And whether a body is in the grave (or in the belly of a lion or at the bottom of sea), or living at moment in the future when Jesus returns, all believers will be able to exchange their flesh-and-blood bodies for new ones – perfect ones that will last forever.

Paul called that “a mystery,” and it was in his day. He was the first person to talk about it. It’s not a mystery to us, thanks to Paul’s profound teaching here in 1 Corinthians 15.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55a | NIV84)

The death of Death will occur when Jesus returns and we receive our new bodies. At that time and not before, Death will forever come to an end on planet Earth. And that gets us to the verse that started this whole thing:

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57 | NIV84)

The victory He has given us is the victory of death and sin. It may seem like Death is winning, but Death is a defeated enemy. If it were not for sin, Death would have no sting. If it were not for the law of God that shows us how sinful we are, Death would have no power over us. But Death doesn’t have the final word! God has the final word and, and that word is VICTORY. Victory over death, hell, and the grace has been won by Jesus Christ and He shares that victory with all of us. Because Jesus died and rose, Death’s back has been broken, and you and I never need to fear it. That’s the victory – multiplied millions upon millions of times.

Just Say Yes, Part 5

Martin Luther King famously said this:

Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.

Of course, he’s right about that. And what is true about forgiveness is also true of our ongoing commitment to God. Our faith must be lived daily, wherever we may be. Every day, in many small and big ways, we need to be manifesting our commitment to God before an unbelieving world. Being in a committed relationship with God is not unlike being in a committed relationship with our spouse. When I think about my marriage, it’s obvious that when the minister asked me to say, “I do,” he should have said, “Say I do, I did, and I will! All the time!”

Part of that commitment to God is learning to say “yes” to Him. I say “learning to say ‘yes’” because it’s not natural for us. And it’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes saying “yes” to God means saying to “no” to ourselves or other people, and most of us are not predisposed to do that. It takes a lot of practice to get it right, but developing the godly habit of saying “yes” to God does two very important things in our lives:

• It reaffirms our commitment to Him.

If I as a Christian husband always said “no” to my wife, what kind husband would that make me? What if I always did what I wanted to do at the expense of doing what my wife wanted? How would that make her feel? The more we say “yes” to God, the more we are telling Him and showing the world how seriously we take our commitment to Him. It demonstrates to God that He is important to us and that our relationship with Him is more than just a “word-only” relationship.

• It shows that we are available to Him.

If you’ve invited somebody to some important event and they never showed even though they said they would, you know how most Christians treat the Lord. We declare our love for Him and we promise Him the world, but then we don’t bother to show up when He needs us the most. What does that tell God? That we have better things to do? That other people are more important than He? Before you say, “I’d never do that,” stop and think about how many times you’ve skipped church lately. Can you imagine? You’re too busy to give God an hour or two one day a week! That’s despicable. But a lot of Christians do that without giving it a second thought.

Saying “yes” to God is part of the faith that we claim to possess. And living in obedience to God’s Word is saying “yes” to Him. So far, we have looked at four people in the Bible who said “yes” to Jesus:

• In Matthew 9:28, two blind men said “yes” to Christ’s mercy and they were healed.
• In Matthew 13:51, some disciples said “yes” to the teachings of Jesus.
• In Matthew 15:17, the Syrophoenician woman said “yes” to being a dog; a sinner in need of the kind of help only the Savior could give.
• In John 11:27, Martha said “yes” to Jesus being the Resurrection.

In each and every case, the people saying “yes” to Jesus were manifesting their faith to Him and to others.

Peter is our fourth example of somebody who said “yes” to Jesus:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” (John 21:15 | NIV84)

In fact, in the story, Peter said “yes” to Jesus three times. Let’s take a closer look at why Jesus asked Peter what appeared to have been the same question three times and why Peter said “yes” three times.

An odd chapter

John chapter 21 is an odd chapter. Some Bible scholars don’t even think John wrote it. It seems almost out of place. These “scholars” point to chapter 20 as being a more fitting end to the Gospel.

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30, 31 | NIV84)

Well, they may have a point; a slender one, no doubt. Those verses do seem like a good way to end a story – a biography of Jesus. But do they really? There is a handful of threads of “unfinished business” in the life and afterlife of Jesus that chapter 21 ties up.

Seven of the disciples had returned to their previous lives. That’s almost anticlimactic when compared to what came before.

Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21:2, 3 | NIV84)

Why wouldn’t they go fishing? These men who had been through so much in recent weeks needed time to think; time to work things out. Sure, Jesus rose from the dead; that worked out good for Him. Sure doubting Thomas isn’t doubting any more. But what do they do next? It’s human nature to do what’s comfortable when you don’t know what you should be doing. That’s why people eat to feel better. Or they crank up the heat when it’s drizzling outside even if it isn’t all that cold. These men knew fishing. They understood fish. So, with Peter as the default leader, they all went fishing. How familiar were these guys with fishing? How comfortable were they with going back to their former lives? John refers to “the boat,” not “a boat.” This is the boat they used, perhaps, dozens and dozens of times before.

So that sets the scene. After the incredible events of the death and especially the resurrection of their Lord and after fellowshipping with Jesus after He rose from the dead, these men beat it back to the boat to catch some fish.

A long night

They fished all night and caught exactly no fish. It’s not that they were bad fishermen. Henry David Thoreau hit the nail on the head:

Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.

These men weren’t looking for fish. They were looking for some direction. Maybe they forgot something Jesus had mentioned earlier, or took it the wrong way:

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5 | NIV84)

Perhaps they thought they were apart from Jesus, or He was apart from them. They, like a lot of Christians, weren’t bad guys or rebellious men. All they needed was a nudge to get them moving. Well, here comes the nudge:

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. (John 21:5, 6 | NIV84)

Jesus showed up, giving them the direction they needed. John was the first to recognize the Man on the beach, but impetuous Peter was the first to get out of the boat:

As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. (John 21:7 | NIV84)

It would have been so cool if Peter had actually walked on the water to get to Jesus this time, but apparently he didn’t. No doubt Peter was excited to see Jesus, as all the disciples would have been, but maybe Peter was hoping for something. He’d let his Lord down badly. Maybe he was looking for some kind redemption.

Instead of that, Jesus made breakfast for the boys. A careful reading of the story reveals something fascinating:

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. (John 15:9 – 12 | NIV84)

There are all kinds of allegorical interpretations of this passage floating around. Early Church Father Jerome taught that this was truly a miracle catch. At that time, there were only 153 varieties of fish in the world, and these fellows caught one of each. The net remained intact, symbolizing the unity that must characterize the church as they fish for men. But to me, the most interesting part of the story is that Jesus had cooked breakfast for them before they brought Him the fish. In other words, He didn’t use their fish. He fed His friends the way He fed the hungry crowds. He did it His way, with His own resources.

Redemption and Restoration

As soon as breakfast was over, it was time for Jesus to finish some unfinished business; to tie up some dangling threads. Turning to Peter, our Lord asked Peter some questions.

• First Question

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” (John 21:15 | NIV)

To this first question, Peter answered “yes.” But I have a question about the question: What did Jesus mean by “these?” Did He have in mind the disciples (“Do you love me more than these disciples?”) or did He have in mind the fish, the boats, the nets, and life in general? Perhaps Jesus was being ambiguous for a reason. What our Lord was looking for from Peter was complete consecration and dedication. That’s what Jesus wants from all His people.

• Second Question

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21:16 | NIV84)

Jesus wanted Peter to know the seriousness of the question. Not just love, “true love” is what Jesus demands of Peter.

• Third Question

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:17 | NIV84)

This last question did it for Peter. He was “hurt.” Wouldn’t you be, too? Jesus did indeed know the man; He knew Peter’s heart but He also knew Peter by he did: He had actually denied Jesus three times. Therefore Peter’s restoration needed to be complete, hence the three denials demanded the three affirmations of love and service. Peter declared his love and loyalty and Jesus accepted his confession.

But a positive confession of faith is not enough. Following each affirmation of love, or confession of faith, Jesus gave Peter a commission:

• Feed my sheep
• Take care of my sheep
• Feed my sheep

Part of Peter’s redemption and restoration involved his doing something for His Lord that had nothing to do with fishing for fish! Henceforth, Peter would care for of Jesus’ sheep: feeding the young ones, shepherding the stubborn ones, and caring for the old ones.

Peter’s healing was complete when each time he said “yes” to Jesus.

And your healing will be complete when you learn to say “yes” to Jesus, too.

The Risen Christ, And the Power to Serve

Just in time for Easter, the media are pushing a new survey that says nearly one in four Christians don’t believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. From the Telegraph:

Nearly one in four Christians do not believe in the story of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, a poll has claimed. Fewer than one-in-three Christians in Britain believe “word-for-word” the Biblical story of Jesus rising from the dead, with another 41 per cent believing some sections should not be taken literally. But the Palm Sunday poll for the BBC found 23 per cent of those calling themselves Christians “do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” at all.

Can you be a Christian and not believe in the Resurrection? Apparently so. It’s easy to blame our “post Christian society” for such a poll result, but a cursory glance at Church History tells us that the Resurrection has frequently been doubted. And the doubt started very early on.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16, 17 | TNIV)

Not too many years later, a large church in Corinth had a big problem accepting the Resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of believers. Paul’s explanation went like this:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others. (1 Corinthians 15:12 – 19 | TNIV)

Verse 19 is a verse that all those so-called Christians who don’t believe in the Resurrection of Christ should get to know. Think about what Paul is saying in it:

If only for this life we have hope in Christ

That phrase speaks to all those people who claim to believe in Jesus as “the good guy,” the “loving rabbi” who taught about love and went about doing good. These people love the Beatitudes but don’t have any use for the divinity of Jesus Christ or of His literal Resurrection from the dead. There are plenty of people who have great respect for the Jesus of the Beatitudes. But the second phrase tells us that’s just not enough:

We are to be pitied more than all the others

In other words, it’s pitiful – pathetic – to have such a limited view of Jesus Christ. It’s not enough. The moral teachings of Jesus, as powerful and life changing as they may be, can’t save you. Simply living according to the Beatitudes would make our sick society relatively healthy, but not result in any souls getting saved and would offer no hope for the future. Indeed, hope for the future is grounded in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

History of the Crucifixion

The Crucifixion of Christ is a historical event. We can read about in the Bible and in other sources. For example, Cornelius Tacitus (55 – 120 AD), Rome’s greatest historian, wrote this:

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus…

Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

And according to the Talmud, a collection of Jewish writing from 70 – 200 AD, we read this account:

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.

That the Crucifixion of Christ happened is indisputable. But it’s the Biblical record that gives us details of how it happened. When our Lord finally died on the Cross, a number of strange events took place:

• The heavy curtain of the Temple was torn in two, Matthew 27:51;
• There was an earthquake, Matthew 27:51;
• Many graves of Old Testament saints were opened up, Matthew 27:52;
• Some of the resurrected saints were seen in Jerusalem after the Resurrection of Jesus;
• A Roman centurion, no less, declared Jesus was truly the Son of God, Matthew 27:54

The burial, Matthew 27:57 – 66

Some time before sunset, shortly before the Sabbath was about to begin, one Joseph of Arimathea took it upon himself to secure the body of Jesus Christ in order to bury Him. For the body of a fellow Jew to go unburied was considered a terrible thing.

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. (Mastthew 27:57 – 60 | TNIV)

What do we know about this man, Joseph of Arimathea? He was born to Matthias, and had at least one brother, Jonathan, and was intelligent and well-thought of by those who knew his family. He was born about eight years before Jesus Christ, and by the age of 17 had a strong desire to learn about the laws and customs, both religious and civil, of his people. He studied the teachings and philosophies of the Pharisees, the Saducees, and the Esseans, in order to choose the best Jewish sect to join.

Young Joseph would eventually join the Pharisees, but did not become obsessed with power and authority, as many of his peers did. His heart remained pure, and it was Joseph’s hope that through his efforts, the Jewish faith would grow in strength and purity and remain devoted to the teachings of Scripture. And just like when he was a young boy, all who knew this Pharisee were impressed with his sincerity and integrity and devotion to the faith.

But when Jesus Christ burst onto the scene and gained fame for His teaching and miracles, he caught the attention of the Pharisees, and some like Nicodemus and Joseph understood that there was something different – special – about this Jesus Christ. In time, Joseph became a convert and a disciple of our Lord’s.

It took a great deal of courage for this Pharisee to approach Pilate and ask for the body of Jesus, but Joseph did and his request was granted.

Burying Jesus had to be done quickly, and so there was no time for extensive preservation. Our Lord’s Body was wrapped up in linen and placed in a brand new tomb. The two Mary’s, who had been utterly devoted to Jesus for such a long time, were there, silently watching carefully where their Lord was buried.

Christ’s Resurrection, Matthew 28:1 – 10

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. (Matthew 28:1 | TNIV)

This visit recorded in Matthew is probably the same one we read about in John 20, but there only Mary Magdalene is mentioned. And only Matthew mentions this:

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:2 – 4 | TNIV)

The angel’s words in Matthew are similar to Mark’s record.

Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” (Mark 16:6, 7 | TNIV)

It’s interesting that none of the Gospel writers even tries to describe the Resurrection of Jesus, yet it makes sense: There were no eye witnesses to the actual event. Our Lord left His tomb quietly, after the Spirit gave Him life in a moment.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. (1 Peter 3:18 | TNIV)

The fact is, as much as we wish the Resurrection took place like some of the paintings portray it, nobody saw it happen; Jesus didn’t come out of the tomb with shocked guards watching Him. Silently, miraculously, and gloriously, our Lord simply rose up and passed through the stone with no fanfare.

For their part, the women didn’t linger at the tomb. They had a job to do; a witness to share. The angel kept the women from discussing how it all could have happened or speculating about things they couldn’t hope to comprehend. He ordered them to go and spread the news. On their way, who should they meet? None other that their risen Lord:

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:9, 10 | TNIV)

This first appearance of Jesus was important given what He told them: “Do not be afraid.” It sounds like the women were afraid at that moment, but the Greek suggests they were living in a state of constant fear. The command of Jesus looks more like this: “Stop being afraid.” These precious women were afraid of many things this day, the least of which was the appearance of the Man they loved and worshipped. Fear had no place in their hearts this happy day.

The challenge, Matthew 28:16 – 20

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16, 17 | TNIV)

The disciples were obedient to the word of their Lord. They went north to Galilee. We’re not told what mountain they were to go to, but in spite of their doubts, they went. A word of explanation and encouragement about Matthew’s account would be good right about now. For those of you who know your Gospels, it’s clear that Matthew has left out a lot material. He doesn’t mention all the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus, but remember what the angel told the two women back in verse 7: “He is going ahead of YOU into Galilee.” In other words, in spite of Matthew’s rather truncated account, the women as well as the eleven disciples were present in Galilee. In fact, it’s entirely possible that this encounter in Galilee was mentioned years later by Paul:

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:6 | TNIV)

Galilee was the perfect place for this meeting. It was probably near the end of Jesus’ 40 days on earth, given the familiarity of His words. In spite of everything, though, some doubted. I have always said that “doubt is the beginning of faith,” and I believe that to be true. These doubters, and we have no idea how many there were, still went IN FAITH. Their faith was far from perfect; who’s isn’t? The main thing is that in spite of their doubt, they still obeyed the word of the Lord. And we should too. We can’t let out doubts – our imperfect faith – keep us from living lives in obedience to the Word of God. In due time, the Lord will give us certain victory over those doubts.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18 – 20 | TNIV)

That’s what we call today, The Great Commission, but at the time they were simply words of instruction given by Jesus to His followers. Edward Blair, in his excellent book “Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew,” wrote that this commission from Jesus is the whole point of Matthew’s Gospel. In these three verses, we see the absolute, final authority of Jesus Christ, but also, as Blair called it, “its derivative authority.” With authority from Jesus, His followers were to go and evangelize the whole world. Not only that, we also see what discipleship is all about: teaching those evangelized the Word of God and not abandoning them at the very moment of the spiritual rebirth. And we have the promise to Jesus’ continued presence.

One of those who heard this Great Commission could possibly have been Joseph of Arimathea. It’s speculation, of course, but when you consider what became of this man, it seems more than probable. For some time after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, he lived a solitary life. Eventually, but he joined with Peters 72 disciples, according to tradition, and began to fulfill the Great Commission. As Roman persecution of Christians dialed up in intensity, and with martyrdom looming on the horizon, Peter’s followers dispersed, including Joseph of Arimathea, taking the Gospel with them.

Joseph travelled all over Italy, preaching and teaching the Gospel, and very often his life was in peril. Eventually he returned to Jerusalem, after the threat of persecution had died down, reporting to the church there all that he had done. The church, impressed with his missionary zeal, ordained Joseph of Arimathea and commissioned him to take the Word to what would become England. He would end up, as tradition has it, in Glastonbury, some three years after Jesus ascended to heaven. Still only in his yearly 40’s, Joseph had a long and powerful ministry of preaching and performing miracles by the power of God, and in one day he baptized 18,000 people. There’s surely a hint of exaggeration there, but there is no doubt that Joseph of Arimathea is an unsung hero of God’s Word.

You have to feel sorry for those who doubt the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. They will never exceperience what Joseph of Arimathea and countless followers of Jesus have experienced:  The continued presence of Christ in their lives and the power given them to fulfill the Great Commission through the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians, Part 4

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The resurrection of Jesus is the whole reason for the existence of Christianity. Many people were martyred for their beliefs, but only one rose from the grave. That’s what sets Christianity apart from all the other religions and belief systems across the world, and that’s why the apostle Paul spends so much time discussing it in 1 Corinthians.

There were plenty of Greeks in the Corinthian church, and they were no doubt being influenced by the wacky philosophies that were popular at that time. One such philosophy involved the immortality of the soul. While the Greeks believed in it, they had no use for the human body – they viewed as a temporary “prison” that held the soul until death set it free. This philosophy was overflowing into their opinion of the resurrection of Christ and denied the resurrection of the future, which is part and parcel of the whole doctrine of Christ’s resurrection.

But there was another view in this church. Others believed in the resurrection of body and soul, so much so that thought the resurrection had already taken place and that the Kingdom had already arrived in its fullness!

You seem to think you already have all the spiritual food you need. You are full and spiritually contented, rich kings on your thrones, leaving us far behind! I wish you really were already on your thrones, for when that time comes you can be sure that we will be there, too, reigning with you. (1 Corinthians 4:8 TLB)

They also denied any future resurrection, just like the first group, but for different reasons.

The key doctrine of the Christian faith – resurrection of believers – was either doubted or rejected by some in the church. Paul needed to set them straight, and he did that by showing that the certainty of the resurrection of the believer rests on the fact of the resurrection of Christ. His argument is a simple one: The Church is a living organism with Christ as its Head. If Christ as the Head of the organism arose, then the Body, the Church, will rise too. The Corinthians needed to see that Resurrection was, in fact, a seamless whole; to do away with the believer’s resurrection would do away with Christ’s.

Christ’s victory over death, 1 Corinthians 15:12 – 26

In terms of Christ’s resurrection, Paul has shown that both Scripture and the personal witness of reliable believers supported the fact of the resurrection of Christ.

He was seen by Peter and later by the rest of “the Twelve.” After that he was seen by more than five hundred Christian brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died by now. Then James saw him, and later all the apostles. Last of all I saw him too, long after the others, as though I had been born almost too late for this. (1 Corinthians 15:5 – 8 TLB)

Now he turns to a technique of reasoning we call reduction ad absurdum. That’s a fancy way of saying that without the doctrine of the Resurrection in its entirety, that is, the resurrection of Christ and the eventual resurrection of believers, the Christian faith would simply fold up. Here’s how that argument went –

We have preached that Christ has been raised from the dead. So how can some of you say that no one rises from the dead? If no one rises from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. (1 Corinthians 15:12, 13 NIrV)

You can almost sense Paul’s sense of surprise as he asks the question, “So how can some of you say that no one rises from the dead?” It’s hard to know how many members of the church had become doubters. They were believers, certainly, and probably educated Greeks who had revived the wacky resurrection views of their former belief systems.

But when his audience heard Paul talk about the resurrection from the dead some of them laughed outright, but others said, “We should like to hear you speak again on this subject.” (Acts 17:32 JBP)

Those were Greek philosophers laughing at Paul. He had encountered their philosophy before outside of the church, and here it was inside the church. It’s probably also hard for you to believe that honest-to-goodness Christians should actually doubt any part of the doctrine of Resurrection. But human reason always finds a way to object to this wonderful and essential doctrine. Christianity is an all-or-nothing proposition; you have to believe what the Bible says. If you doubt some of it, eventually you’ll doubt all of it. Paul’s big concern was that if these well-meaning believers wondered about their eventual resurrection, it wouldn’t take long before they started to question Christ’s resurrection.

To push the point even further, Paul suggests that if Christ’s resurrection didn’t happen, then he had wasted his time preaching anything –

And if Christ has not been raised, what we preach doesn’t mean anything. Your faith doesn’t mean anything either. More than that, we would be lying about God. We are witnesses that God raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if the dead are not raised. (1 Corinthians 15:14, 15 NIrV)

Without the reality of Christ’s resurrection, as the Greek puts it: empty then our proclamation, empty also your faith. Without the Resurrection, preachers become like two bit hustlers.

Furthermore, “more than that,” without the Resurrection, all the apostles would be liars! To take that argument to its logical conclusion is to say that all these eye witnesses that talked about the risen Lord had lied and all those believers who had been killed for that very testimony died for a lie. That doesn’t seem reasonable at all. What kind of nincompoop would die for something that isn’t true?

Do we have hope in Christ only for this life? Then people should pity us more than anyone else. (1 Corinthians 15:19 NIrV)

That’s really a stunning verse. If the Christian has hope only in this present life, then he is the most miserable person alive. Godet observed:

To the sufferings accumulated during this life there would come to be added the most cruel deception after this life.

But, praise God, this isn’t the case!

But Christ really has been raised from the dead. He is the first of all those who will rise from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:20 NIrV)

The future resurrection of believers is as certain as the past resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Paul makes sure the Corinthians understand this. Christ was the first, but by no means will He be the last, to rise from the dead. Before Him, none had returned from the grave as He had. Certainly Lazarus “came forth” when he was told to, but in his case and in all other cases similar to his, the spirit returned to the same body that was in the grave and eventually they would all die.

Christ is the “first” or “firstfruits.” That concept isn’t really big to us, but the ancients well understood what Paul was getting at. What happened to Christ is what will happen to those who are connected to Him. The reasoning is sound and simple –

Death came because of what a man did. Rising from the dead also comes because of what a man did. Because of Adam, all people die. So because of Christ, all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21, 22 NIrV)

That’s so simple, it’s genius reasoning. Both Adam and Christ are pictured as heads of the human race (Adam) and the redeemed (Christ). What happened to Adam – he sinned and died – happen to all people. The evidence is all around. So what happened to Christ – He rose from the dead – will happen to all connected to Him by faith.

But, as with all Christian doctrines, there’s more to it than meets the eye. There will be an order to the resurrection, but not an order like that of a military troop.

Christ is the first of those who rise from the dead. When he comes back, those who belong to him will be raised. (1 Corinthians 15:23 NIrV)

The first to rise was Christ, verse 23. He was the One who blazed the trail, making it possible for what happened to Him to happen to us. Because He was the first, all believers will experience what He experienced when He returns. At this point, Paul isn’t engaging in a big discourse on eschatology, he is simply stating that Christ was the first, and believers will be second when He returns. By explaining it this way, Paul made sure the Corinthians understood that nobody, save Christ, has been resurrected; that nobody missed out.

That brings us to this group of verses that at first glance seems almost out of place –

Then the end will come after Christ destroys all rule, authority and power. Then he will hand over the kingdom to God the Father. Christ must rule until he has put all his enemies under his control. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. Scripture says that God “has put everything under his control.” (Psalm 8:6) It says that “everything” has been put under him. But it is clear that this does not include God himself. That’s because God put everything under Christ. When he has done that, the Son also will be under God’s rule. God put everything under the Son. In that way, God will be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24 – 28 NIrV)

This seeming digression isn’t a digression at all; it relates back to the absolute necessity of the Resurrection. Paul needed to show that Christ was raised for a purpose: the destruction of man’s last enemy, death. But that destruction is actually an ongoing process that began with His resurrection and will end with ours when He returns. Some Corinthians might have wondered what His resurrection accomplished, after all it did Jesus a lot of good but what about us? We’re still dying, aren’t we! In fact, His resurrection began the downfall of death, and when Christ returns in glory He will finally deal a death-blow that will forever end death’s reign on this planet.

That phrase at the beginning of verse 24, “then the end will come,” does not necessarily mean, “the end of the world,” but rather the ultimate aim or final goal of Christ who had all authority over all the events, things, and activities of this world. That ultimate goal is the end of death forever. Paul’s reasoning is powerful: when Christ rose from the dead, death began its slow exit from this world. He was the first, all believers will follow His lead when He returns. When that happens, death will never rear its ugly head again. That’s why both resurrections form the foundation of the Christian faith. The Bible witnesses to the Resurrection (vs. 3 – 7). Paul’s personal experience gives evidence to the Resurrection (vs. 8 – 11). All preaching is based on and motivated by Jesus’ resurrection (vs. 12 – 16). Our personal redemption depends on the Resurrection (vs. 17). And finally, our hope for the future rests squarely on the Resurrection (vs. 19 – 28).

The Point of Christianity

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The only reason for the existence of the Christian faith is the reality of one event: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without it, Christianity takes its place alongside all the philosophies of the world. The resurrection of Christ is what sets the Christian faith apart from Hinduism, Buddhism, Scientology, and any other religion you can think of. The resurrection is so vital a doctrine that, as one writer noted,

We cannot make too much of the death of Christ, but we can make too little of the resurrection of Christ.

On the importance of the resurrection, the great apostle wrote:

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14 NIV)

But not everybody thinks the resurrection is so great. Celcus, a Roman living and writing in the second century, wasn’t exactly impressed with the Christian faith or with it’s Founder. Here’s what he thought:

While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hand had been pierced. But who says this? A hysterical female and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion…or which is more likely, wanted to impress others by telling this fantastic tale.

The truth is, the church of Jesus Christ is very good at celebrating the birth of our Lord, and even commemorating His death. Unfortunately, we don’t make nearly enough of His resurrection, usually reserving that topic for Easter. We should take notice of the sermons recorded for us in the New Testament, because they all have the resurrection of Jesus Christ as their theme.

John 20 is “the resurrection chapter” in John’s Gospel.

An empty tomb: ultimate evidence, John 20:1 – 9

John begins his account of the resurrection with words that have resonated throughout the Christian centuries:

Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone was rolled aside from the entrance. (John 20:1 TLB, see also Mark 16:1, 2)

Westcott made an interesting observation of how John recorded our Lord’s Passion versus His resurrection.

[John’s account of] the passion is the history of the descent of selfishness to apostasy, his history of the Resurrection is the history of the elevation of love into absolute faith.

Just so. As the Christian greeting cards say today:

It wasn’t the nails that held Jesus to the Cross, it was love.

Given the truthfulness of that statement, it was highly appropriate that John, the disciple Jesus loved, would make sure his readers knew that it was Mary Magdalene who discovered the empty tomb. She had been forgiven so much and her love for her Lord was legendary. You’ll remember that she was the woman from whom Jesus had driven out no less than seven demons. She was eternally grateful to Him for setting her free, and she would be the first person to discover He had been set free from the bonds of death. Yet she had no idea what had happened to Jesus. The idea of a resurrection wasn’t something she’d consider. Why would she? It’s not an everyday occurrence!

Something else to consider: At this time in history, women were truly without rights, legal or otherwise. They didn’t even have standing in a court of law. When John wrote his gospel, many years after the events chronicled in it, he had no problem writing the truth that it was a woman, and a scandalous one at that, who saw the empty tomb first.

When John, then Peter, reached the tomb, he looked in but did not enter. They were understandably filled with confusion and alarm. Like Mary Magdalene, any notion that Jesus had risen from the dead hadn’t entered their minds. However, it didn’t take them long to come to the right conclusion!

Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (John 20:8 NIV)

John is writing about himself here – he sometimes referred to himself in the third person. His moment of belief came in one decisive moment; the moment he saw the folded-up grave cloths. John needed no convincing; faith came immediately.

There’s an interesting play-on-words taking place in the original language that is missed in the English translation. There are no less than three different Greek words used in this passage translated as “seeing,” or something similar depending on what translation you are reading from. In verse 5, when John “bent over and looked in,” the word means to perceive and understand. John took a while to try to understand what it was he was looking at. Then in verse 6, when Peter went into the tomb and “he saw,” which is the Greek word theaomai, from which we get our word “theatre.” Peter stared at the grave cloths, but more like a spectator. Then in verse 8, John entered the tomb and “he saw and believed.” This time, the word “saw” means to know for certain. He knew and he believed before he saw the risen Christ.

Charles Spurgeon, never at a loss for words, noted this:

You are not asked to trust in a dead Jesus, but in One who, though He died for our sins, has risen for our justification.

Verse 9 gives us a bit of an insight into the mental state of the disciples. We sometimes get the idea that these men, eleven of the twelve at any rate, were super-saints. But in some ways, they were a kind of dull group:

They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. (John 20:8 NIV)

This is not an unimportant verse for us to simply skip over so as to get on with the good part of the story. It teaches us something, that if we take it to heart, will help us to understand ourselves better and those lost souls we are witnessing to. These men had walked with and talked with Jesus for some three years. He had hinted at His death and eventual resurrection on a number of occasions but they didn’t get it. Not only that, John says that these men, good Jews all, didn’t even grasp their own Scriptures on the subject! Perhaps John had in mind Psalm 16:10 when he wrote what he did:

For you will not leave me among the dead; you will not allow your beloved one to rot in the grave.  (TLB)

So, the next time you kick yourself for coming to an understanding of a verse or passage of Scripture only after the umpteenth time you’ve read it, studied it, or heard a sermon on it, remember John and his pals! Even with the help of the Savior, there were some things their minds just didn’t get until they were illumined by the Holy Spirit.

Personal appearances of Jesus after His death, John 20:10 – 16

You can’t keep a good Savior down for long! Herbert Smith put it aptly:

It wasn’t a tomb at all – it was a room for a transient. Jesus just stopped there a night or two on His way back to glory.

Three days after His death, Jesus rose from the dead and visited some of His friends.

Our Lord’s first appearance was to Mary. In all, there were eleven appearances of Jesus before His ascension, but this was the first. Why did He appear first to Mary Magdalene? Proverbs 8:17 tells us this:

I love all who love me. Those who search for me shall surely find me. (TLB)

She may have loved Jesus genuinely, but that love wasn’t enough for her to recognize Him when He appeared to her.

She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him! (John 20:14 TLB)

Here’s another incident that should make us stop and think. Why were the folded grave cloths enough proof for John that Jesus has risen from the dead, but not for Mary? She initially saw exactly what John saw but while he achieved believing faith, she did not. God never deals with two people the same way. He treats all people as individuals, respecting their temperaments and their level of faith, or lack thereof.

Mary, while she didn’t have faith, did have love. But love wasn’t enough for her to achieve the same level of faith John did. Unbelief is blind, love notwithstanding. There are a great many people who have sentimental feelings for Jesus and what He did for them, especially around Easter. Who isn’t moved by the Easter story? But sentimentality does not equal faith. Mary had a strong love and a sentimental attachment to Jesus but she didn’t have faith – yet. She wept because she loved Him, and because she didn’t have believing faith.

“Why are you crying?” he asked her. “Whom are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.” (John 20:15 TLB)

William Barclay’s observations are insightful on this verse.

The simple and poignant fact is that she could not recognize Him through her tears. She could not take her eyes off the tomb, and she had her back to Jesus. She insisted on facing in the wrong direction.

He’s absolutely right about that! Read verse 16 –

Mary!” Jesus said. She turned toward him. “Master!” she exclaimed.

Most Bible scholars make much of the fact when Jesus spoke her name, Mary believed. Barclay makes the valid point that she recognized Jesus when she got her eyes off the empty tomb and put them where they belonged: on the Man who was no longer IN the tomb.

How many people “love” Jesus but miss out on His presence because they are looking away from Him instead of at Him? It’s a dangerous thing to misinterpret your feelings for faith. It’s dangerous because it causes you to miss out, not only on our Lord’s presence, but all things that come with His presence: a sense of peace, contentment, meaning in your life, and so on. Blinded by feelings and emotions may actually feel good for a while, but that kind of experience is shallow and leaves you spiritually cold. Which explains why there are so many shallow, cold Christians these days.

At that moment of recognition, Mary called Jesus by an interesting name: Rabboni. Why did she use that title? Historically, “rabboni” was a title rarely used of men and never used in addressing them. That word was primarily used to address Yahweh. Believing faith had finally dawned in Mary. She knew that Jesus Christ had not just risen from the dead, but that He was, in fact, God Himself.

When Mary recognized Jesus, she grabbed onto Him.

“Don’t touch me,” he cautioned, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” (John 20:17 TLB)

It’s not that Jesus didn’t want to be touched – He encouraged Thomas to do the very thing Mary was doing! Mary, finding out her Lord and Savior was alive, wanted to stay in His presence; she didn’t want Him to leave her and she didn’t want to leave Him. Problem was, that wasn’t what Jesus wanted her to do. He had a job for her to do: take the good news of His resurrection to others.

That begs yet another question: Why didn’t He just appear to them in person? Well, actually He did, so why the urgency for Mary to take the good news to the others? Christians are not saved to just get them into heaven or to sit in a pew on Sundays. We have a job to do as surely as those first disciples of Christ did. In a way, what Jesus wanted Mary to do represented a kind of pre-Great Commission commission.

There they met him and worshiped him—but some of them weren’t sure it really was Jesus! He told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and earth. Therefore go and make disciples in all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and then teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you; and be sure of this—that I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:17 – 20 TLB)

We all have a the same job to do, as Mary and as the disciples. It’s great to feel warm and comfortable in His presence. But there comes a time when we have to step out to share our faith with others.

The story of Easter is truly the greatest story ever told.  It speaks of a God who went to greatest extreme to show His love for lost souls.  It speaks of a Savior who gave all for all.  It speaks of a love to strong, the grave could not contain it.  The power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead is still at work today, changing the hearts of anybody who puts their faith and trust in the Cross.

Our Great Salvation, 4

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SAVED BY HOPE

Romans 8:24

For in this hope we were saved. (Romans 8:24a NIV)

For we are saved by hope… (Romans 8:24a KJV)

Well, this can’t be right, can it? We are “saved by hope?” I thought we are saved “by faith” in Jesus Christ; by believing in Him. What did Paul mean when he wrote that “we are saved by hope?”

The first thing we need to do is establish the correct translation of this verse. The venerable KJV is wrong. Nobody is “saved by hope,” even the most casual of Christian realizes there is more to salvation than merely “hope.” We have verses like this one that dooms the idea of “salvation by hope”:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

The NIV’s rendering of Romans 8:24 is preferable: “…in this hope we are saved…” Or, in other words, God planted eternal life deep within every man. The idea that we will go on and never cease to exist is the “hope” of which Paul wrote. It is with the hope of eternal life that we are saved.

The hope of all creation

As Christians, we exist in three dimensions, two temporal and one eternal: past, present, and future. Our salvation—our Christian experience—is built squarely on the Foundation that was laid in Christ. Our salvation lives in the present, empowered by the Holy Spirit. And our salvation stretches forward, to the future, toward our full redemption. So far in the book of Romans, Paul, the great theologian, has dealt with the first two dimensions. He’s already written about what Christ did and what the Holy Spirit does. Now, Paul turns his attention the great hope we have in Christ.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18 NIV)

Paul had already written something very similar to the Corinthians:

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV)

This is a familiar technique of Paul’s: to compare the present situation to what is in store in the future. The present pales in comparison to our glorious future. Weighed on the perfect scales of eternity, the sufferings we endure in the present are light—they weigh nothing compared to the splendor of our life to come. It takes a measure of faith, though, because the Bible doesn’t say much about what our future glory will be, but it promises it will be ours. In fact, it promises even more than mere possession; our future glory—whatever that is and means—will be manifested in us, we will possess it, and it will forever transform us.

And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20b, 21 NIV)

This “glory,” whatever it may be or form it may take, will be so magnificent, that it’s not just the redeemed who are waiting in eager expectation for the future!

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. (Romans 8:19 NIV)

J.B. Phillips in his translation, handles verse 19 like this:

The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.

The apostle, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has let us in on something very profound here. All of creation, excluding the angels, demons, and the unredeemed, is “longing” for the day when we Christians will reach the point of our final consummation because all creation seems to understand its own deliverance from its imperfect state caused by the fall cannot take place until then.

Why does Paul bring up such a “heady” idea? It’s because even Christians, especially in the face of suffering, are prone to doubt. By introducing the fact that ALL CREATION believes in man’s ultimate glorification, Paul is saying we ought to have that same kind of faith regardless. Our future as believers, in spite of our present, is certain. We have a glorious future waiting for us!

The “hope” of all creation is linked to the redemption of mankind. The future of the two—all creation and mankind—is inseparably joined together. God, on the day of resurrection, will give to man a glorified body which will suit his new, eternal home, and will create a corresponding new heavens and new earth. Both epoch events are anticipated today by “all creation.”

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:22 NIV)

All creation looks to the future in hope that it, like man, will be restored. It cannot rest until God’s plan for man has been completed. Creation was intended to be man’s perfect home, but when man sinned and fell from grace, creation was corrupted; thrown into complete disarray. Now it’s wild; it works against man and even itself sometimes. But in that great day of the reconciliation of all things, the words of Francis of Assisi’s wonderful hymn will be made real:

All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voices, let us sing:
Alleluia, alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beams,
thou silver moon that gently gleams,

O praise him, O praise him,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Our cause for hope

So, if “all creation” has this hope, how much more should we, who have the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit convincing us that we are “God’s children?” The child of God should not fear death; he’s never going to die. The child of God need not be troubled by hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, beach erosion, supposed climate change or all the other upheavals of nature because all nature belongs to God and hopes in God. We ought not be disturbed by wars, famines, diseases, and other awful things that sully the human race, because we know that God is in absolute control and this world and everything in, on, and under it is flowing along the current of God’s eternal plan. And may I remind you that this plan was conceived and executed by an omnipotent, omniscient, all LOVING heavenly Father?

Christ is the exact likeness of the unseen God. He existed before God made anything at all, and, in fact, Christ himself is the Creator who made everything in heaven and earth, the things we can see and the things we can’t; the spirit world with its kings and kingdoms, its rulers and authorities; all were made by Christ for his own use and glory. He was before all else began and it is his power that holds everything together. (Colossians 1:15—17 TLB)

Regardless of what’s going on around you, God has not left you up to your own devices. Regardless of what “nature” hurls at you, Christ is the glue that continues to  hold universe together.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)

Now, we either believe that verse or we don’t. If we don’t, we won’t have hope and we’ll be full of pessimism. But if we do, we will have hope and we will exude good cheer.

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23 NIV)

Here, a new “groaning” is introduced. Not only is “all creation” groaning, but we are as well. Or at least we should be. Our “groaning” is linked to our adoption, which includes our glorified bodies.

At this present time, we are not in possession of our new bodies. But we have been adopted into God’s great family and we are full of His Holy Spirit, who helps us to recognize the reality of our new relationship with our Heavenly Father. This precious gift of the Spirit is God’s promise that the whole process of salvation will, one day, be fully complete. Yes, we are completely saved right now, but part of that salvation is our bodily resurrection, and that hasn’t happened yet. Paul, when he wrote to the Corinthians, emphasized that the end goal of salvation included a new body for believers!

They are just human bodies at death, but when they come back to life they will be superhuman bodies. For just as there are natural, human bodies, there are also supernatural, spiritual bodies. (1 Corinthians 15:44 TLB)

Now, having a new body, a resurrection body, may not be a big deal for you. You may be one among many who’s just glad to be getting into Heaven and avoiding Hell. But consider this: do you really want to spend eternity with the body you have now? Do you want to wear glasses and a hearing aid for all eternity? Do you want to be taking your blood pressure medication for all eternity? Do you want to put up with the chronic pain of arthritis for all eternity? Here’s the point: God thought of everything when He saved you, and He saved ALL of you, including your body! Nobody knows what your glorified body will be like. We have a rough idea what Jesus’ is like, but as far as ours goes, the Bible is silent. One thing is certain, though:  our glorified body will be way better than our present, earthly body!

At this point in time, Christians are not fully redeemed, even though we have been adopted by God and fully accepted by God. We possess a body destined to die. It’s not over for us, yet.

And this is our hope:

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:25 NIV)

Hope for the future. Hope that what is coming is better than what is here now. Hope that all will be made right, finally and forever. Paul’s point is clear: we are to wait patiently for all the promises of salvation to be fulfilled.

We were truly saved the moment we placed our faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We were absolutely saved and redeemed when we were clothed with Christ’s righteousness. And yet, we were not “fully saved” because we were saved “in hope” of our future restoration. Faith and hope are distinguishable but inseparable. Calvin was right on when he said:

Hope nourishes and sustains faith.

Power for living comes from hoping in the right direction. From our perspective, the God of the future will be so much greater than the God of the past or even of the present. Do you have this hope? Does this hope possess you? It can, if you let it!

I pray that God will help you overflow with hope in him through the Holy Spirit’s power within you. (Romans 15:13b TLB)

Lazarus: The Man Who Came Back For Dinner

Karloff wasn't the first.  Lazarus was!

Karloff wasn’t the first. Lazarus was!

 

John 11, 12

 

Lazarus is another bit player in Scripture.  Most of us know the one thing Lazarus was famous for:  he came back to life at the Lord’s command.  Still, he is a bit player, albeit an important one for some important reasons.

A quick reconnaissance of John’s Gospel shows us how it is laid out.  In the first 10 chapters, we see Jesus moving and preaching, revealing Himself to more and more people on a large scale. His ministry began at the wedding feast in Cana and spread out from there.  Chapter 11 is different; this time Jesus is not preaching to crowds of listeners, instead, we see the beginnings of His private ministry to specific individuals.   Those individuals included Lazarus and his two sisters.

Not a whole lot is said about Lazarus, hence his “bit player” status.  But he is vitally important because what happened to him answered a burning question:  Is Jesus more powerful than death?  If Jesus really was the Messiah—the Son of God—as He claimed to be, then He must be!  The Lazarus incident proves that Jesus Christ does indeed hold the power of life and death.

It also proves that our Lord is interested in individuals, not just in groups of people, like Israel.  Is Jesus concerned about you personally?  Does He know about your problems?  You bet He does!  And what He did for Lazarus and his sisters proves that, too.

The Hebrew form of Lazarus is Eliezer, meaning “God my helper.”  He was aptly named, considering how he was helped by God!   We can learn a lot about ourselves and how we have been “helped” spiritually by taking a look at this man who came back, Lazarus.

1.  Sickness

Do you remember Mary, who poured the costly perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair? Well, her brother Lazarus, who lived in Bethany with Mary and her sister Martha, was sick.  So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, “Sir, your good friend is very, very sick.”  (John 11:1—3  TLB)

The characters of this drama are introduced to us quickly in these verses.  By the time this Gospel was written, around 90 AD, Mary seemed to be fairly well-known and her name is linked to her home town of Bethany.  She was known for anointing the feet of Jesus with some precious perfume.  Doing anything meaningful for Jesus always carries lasting value.

For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God.  (Ecclesiastes 9:1a  NKJV)

Lazarus, we are told was very sick.  He was loved by the Lord, yet eaten up with sickness.  Lazarus is the perfect picture of the sin-sick man; loved by God, yet eaten up with sin—the whole reason Jesus came in the first place!

He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.  (Psalm 107:20 NKJV)

Sickness is a double-edged sword as far as the believer is concerned.  There is a corner of Christianity that teaches God makes people sick.  Then there is the rest of Christianity that recognizes no evil thing comes from God.  But, God does allow sickness for a very specific purpose:

But when Jesus heard about it he said, “The purpose of his illness is not death, but for the glory of God. I, the Son of God, will receive glory from this situation.”  (John 11:4  TLB)

Everything, even very bad things, happen for a purpose, and God may be glorified even in our sickness and distress, especially if we behave in a Godly manner.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  (Romans 8:28  NKJV)

Jesus knew something Lazarus and his sisters did not know:  this sickness was not going to kill Lazarus.  Death would not be the final result of this sickness, but rather the final result would be the glorification of God.

2.  Death

In spite of what Jesus just said, that Lazarus’ sickness would not be the cause of his death, Lazarus did, in fact, die.

Then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.”  (John 11:14a  TLB)

So, did this death catch Jesus by surprise?  Not at all!  Remember, this sickness’ purpose was NOT to take Lazarus home, but to glorify God.  Had Jesus been present during Lazarus’ decline, everybody would have expected Jesus to heal him.  Now, the healing of a sick person is a miracle, to be sure, and it can be a faith-strengthening event (especially for the one healed!), but how much more powerful is raising a dead man to life?

Sickness in no way means that God does not love you.  Or that you have displeased Him in some way.  You can’t look at a person’s circumstances and declare whether or not God loves that person.

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts.  (1 Corinthians 4:5  NKJV)

In other words, you can’t always trust what you see.  To onlookers, it may have looked like Jesus didn’t really care that Lazarus was sick.  Yet we know how the depth of Christ’s affection for not only Lazarus but also for his sisters.

3.  Life and liberty

And Lazarus came—bound up in the gravecloth, his face muffled in a head swath. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”  (John 11:44  TLB)

The life-giving power of Christ could only have been manifested in the case of a dead person.  A skeptic could claim a healing was really just the body healing itself.  But only God can return life to a corpse.  This is why things happened this way; there could be no question that Jesus was who and what He claimed He was.

Jesus Christ came into the world to do for sinners spiritually what He did for Lazarus physically.

The thief ’s purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.  (John 10:10  TLB)

Jesus Christ came to give spiritual life to spiritual corpses!  That would be you, if you aren’t born again.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 6:23  TLB)

Life is the free gift of God!  And that life, which comes from Jesus Christ, is more than just life, it’s abundant life—life to the fullest!  Tired of the everyday way of living?  Try the life that Jesus offers.

Lazarus was physically dead and bound up tightly in his graveclothes, but when life returned to him, he was also set free—he experienced liberty.  This is also part of the abundant life:  liberty in Christ.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1  NIV’11)

When Jesus gives you new life, He sets your free from sin.  You are no longer its slave.

So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free…  (John 8:36  TLB)

4.  Fellowship

A banquet was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus sat at the table with him.  (John 12:2  TLB)

Christians have such free access to the presence of Christ that we often take Him for granted.  Here, in the shadow of the Cross, we see Jesus at a dinner party given in His honor.  Lazarus was right there with Him.  He had been dead, but now he was alive and enjoying fellowship with the One who gave him life.  Jesus had said this:

“I am the one who raises the dead and gives them life again. Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies like anyone else, shall live again.”   (John 11:25  TLB)

Lazarus experienced first-hand the truth of this verse in the physical sense, and it is the privilege of all redeemed sinners to experience its spiritual truth.  Once we were dead in our sins—we had NO fellowship with God because we were, for all intents and purposes, dead to Him.  But now, filled with new life from Him, we are able to enjoy blessed fellowship with Christ all the time!  We are alive to Him and He is alive to us.

Lazarus ate with Jesus.  Every time we pray and read the Word and even fellowship with other believers, we are also having fellowship with Jesus!   We may not be eating a meal with Him—yet—but we are fellowshipping with Him nonetheless.

5.  Testimony

Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus too, for it was because of him that many of the Jewish leaders had deserted and believed in Jesus as their Messiah.  (John 12:10, 11  TLB)

These priests were ruthless.  In order to kill Jesus, they would have to kill Lazarus too.  He had become an offense and threat to them.  These chief priests were Saducees, and since they did not believe in the resurrection, they were obligated to get rid of any evidence that was contrary to their teachings, and that meant Lazarus.

Such is the testimony of any believer!  A true believer is an offense and a threat to Satan and his work among sinners.  Think about Lazarus; everybody in Bethany knew he had died, many of them had witnessed his resurrection, and even more of them had seen him walking around town, the picture of health.  What God did for Lazarus was UNDENIABLE.

A Christian who is living his life to glorify God will have the same effect on sinners as Lazarus did—

it was because of him that many of the Jewish leaders had deserted and believed in Jesus as their Messiah.

Never discount the influence of Christ’s risen life in us!  What did Jesus say?

And when I am lifted up on the cross, I will draw everyone to me.”  (John 12:32  TLB)

Jesus isn’t on the Cross anymore, but He is in you, and if you are living for Him, people will be drawn to Christ in you.

Yes, Lazarus is an important bit player in Scripture.  He is a practical illustration of what Jesus does for each and every individual who comes to Him for salvation:  He resurrects them spiritually.  Lazarus’ new life is also an example to us.  Many sinners came to know Jesus because Lazarus lived his new life out in the open, for all to see.  Are you living your new life in Jesus like that?

Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father.  (Matthew 5:15  TLB)

 


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