Saturday, August 18, 2018

180819 The Grace of God at Work in Us

The Apostle began this section of his letter by talking about the gospel that he preached and they had received in the Corinthian church. He saw that the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus is essential to the Christian faith. To establish the resurrection, Paul set out to list several of Jesus’ appearances between his crucifixion and his ascension into heaven. This list is certainly not comprehensive in the sense that it refers to all Jesus appearances. These were the appearances that the Holy Spirit led Paul to tell about. I assume that these might have been most important to the Corinthian Christians. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15:8-10. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
The apostle, led by the Holy Spirit, introduces his magnificent teaching concerning the resurrection of the dead by pointing out the power of grace. God’s grace is revealed in relation to all people everywhere. Everyone is affected positively by God’s grace. His grace held his hand back in the Garden of Eden. He let Adam and Eve live so that we could live in order that many could be saved. God’s grace revealed His goodness and mercy, even to unbelievers. God’s grace demonstrates God’s justice that will be revealed. Finally, God’s grace is designed to demonstrate God’s glory.
Ending the list of those who were eyewitnesses of his resurrection…
Paul was the least and the last Apostle! Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 12:12. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.
Paul desired that the church in Corinth recognize his apostleship. In order to establish his claim without a doubt, he pointed to, “the signs of a true apostle” that were done by him. Signs that were patiently presented by him. He was an apostle by the grace of God!
You will recall that after Judas’ betrayal and suicide there was a need to replace him in the group of apostles (Acts 1:21-26). Many have argued that the choice of Matthias was not God’s best plan. I hold to the position that God was in charge of the decision as it’s recorded in the Bible. Therefore it was not a bad decision. Other individuals are referred to in the Bible as apostles. Paul and Barnabas were both referred to as apostles on their missionary journey (Acts 14:14).
There is no doubt…
God’s grace works in the least. Now let’s turn to Ephesians 3:7-9. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things.
Paul viewed himself as the least and last of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ because he had persecuted the church. It was Paul who led in the persecution of the church after the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 8:1-3).
Peter’s statement before the choice of Matthias was, “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to the resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22). After his choice, Matthias was numbered as one of the twelve.
Paul did not meet the requirements set forth by Peter. He had not been with the group of disciples that followed Jesus. However, he was definitely a witness of the resurrection since he had seen the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. Paul’s view was that the grace of God had chosen him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter had been the first to bring Gentiles into the church (Acts 10) but he was not going to be able to be the leader in that project. He was just too much of a Jew to continue as a witness to the Gentiles.
By the grace of God Paul was the chosen witness to the Gentiles. Peter might have been considered the leader of the apostles but Paul considered himself the least. Paul considered himself to be unworthy. We all feel that way about ourselves from time to time. So we should be encouraged by the fact that…
God’s grace works in the unworthy. Let’s turn to Galatians 1:15-16. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone;
Paul was unworthy due to his arrogant persecution of the church. He never fully recovered from the reputation he had earned. When he first arrived in Damascus he could not have been elected to any position in the Christian church. God had to convince Ananias to go and bear witness to Saul of Tarsus. With the support and encouragement of Ananias, Paul was able to begin preaching and teaching in Damascus. When he went back to Jerusalem, some three years later, the Christians avoided him. They could not believe that he had actually changed. They thought he was only pretending to be one of them so that he could find them, have them arrested, and put them to death.
Paul was only able to minister among the Christians of Jerusalem because there was a sensitive believer there named Barnabas to introduce Paul to the church. Barnabas responded to the move of the Holy Spirit in his spirit. Paul recognized that God had chosen him before he was born to be the witness to the Gentiles. God had chosen to reveal his son, Jesus, in Paul’s life! Paul did not choose Christ — God chose Paul! Paul was careful not to go seeking advice from others until he understood God’s call in his life. We must remember that…
God’s grace determines who we are. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 4:7. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
Paul appealed to God’s grace as the basis of his ministry. He was unconcerned about man’s opinion of him and wanted to encourage the church to hold the same attitude. Even if he had been judged by people and failed the judgment he would still be the minister that he was because God had chosen him.
We need to remember this for ourselves. We don’t have anything in our lives that we did not receive from God. It was James, the Lord’s brother, who told us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights,” (James 1:17). It is God’s grace, and his gifts, that determine who and what we are. The minute we begin to think that we have made something of ourselves we will fall into the devil’s trap. Pride goes before destruction! (Proverbs 16:18).
Paul would later write to the Romans, “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment,” (Romans 12:3). We need to guard ourselves and not become self-centered. We have nothing that God did not give us. In every way, it is God’s grace that decides who we are and what we do. We are totally dependent upon him. This does not mean that we are an unimportant part of the process. As human beings, we are inadequate in ourselves to strengthen our ministry in any way.
We must remember that…
God’s grace produces powerful results. Let’s turn to Colossians 1:28-29. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Christian maturity is absolutely essential to our ministry in this world. Paul had written to the Corinthians challenging them to grow up, become mature so that they can process the spiritual truths that he had to share with them (1 Corinthians 3:1).
This challenge to the church came after his assurance that the Corinthians had everything they needed. Since they had received Christ Jesus as Lord, God had given to them wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that the one who boasts must boast in the Lord not in themselves (1 Corinthians 1:30). We need to remember that…
God’s grace never fails. Let’s look at Philippians 1:6-7. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
Do you ever feel like you don’t deserve the love of God in Christ Jesus? Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t! Before you think that I’m condemning you I assure you that I don’t either. Some people think it’s a negative thing for me to say that we all deserve death and hell rather than Christ and heaven. This is not intended in any way to be negative. It’s a very positive statement. We do not get what we deserve we get what God gives to us.
Look at verse six. “He who began a good work in you” is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not saved by our good works. We are not saved because we are worthy. We are saved by the grace of God through faith. We did not come to this idea on our own. Let me quote Charles H. Spurgeon’s (1834 – 1892) description of his coming to faith:
“One week-night when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher's sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, “How did you come to be a Christian?” I sought the Lord. “But how did you come to seek the Lord?” The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that he was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.”
Our salvation depends on God not on ourselves and for that I praise him. We receive what we do not deserve because of God’s choice! He is the giver of salvation for us. God does nothing halfway. He did not bring the children of Israel out of Egypt to abandon them in the wilderness. God did not lead millions all around the world to believe in him just to abandon them! He did not lead us to establish this church unless he intended it to make a major difference in this community! He never fails to complete what he begins.
Fanny Jane Crosby, though physically blind, wrote these words more than 100 years ago:
To God be the glory, great things he has done; so love to the world that he gave us his son, who yielded his life an atonement for sin and open the life gate that all may go in. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice! Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice! Have come to the Father, through Jesus the son, and give him the glory, great things he had done.
The Giver gets the Glory!

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

180812 Of First Importance

1 Corinthians 15:3-6 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
As the Apostle began to move towards the end of his letter to the church at Corinth he wants to remind them (and us) of the gospel. The gospel that he preached to them. He felt so interrelated with the gospel that he sometimes called it “my gospel”! The church at Corinth had many problems. Rather than review them all again Paul reminded them of what they had received in the beginning. He reminded them of the very basis of their salvation. Now, we come to his statement of purpose that he called “of first importance”. These few verses can be a creed to live by.
Let’s look at what he has to say about these truths…
Christ died for our sins. We remember the words of John the Baptist found in John 1:29. The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Note that John did not compare him to the shepherd. Instead, Jesus is identified as the “Lamb”! The Lamb has no say about what is happening to him or her. The shepherd can guide the process of sacrifice the Lamb of God must simply die in payment for the sin of the world. It was very clear to John that Jesus would be the atoning sacrifice that would turn aside the wrath of God.
Many years later, the apostle Peter stated it this way…
1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Jesus bore the curse held against us by taking our sin into his own body on the tree. In their magnificent hymn of hope and confidence, Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend wrote, “In Christ alone, who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless Babe; this gift of love and righteousness scorned by the ones he came to save. ‘Tll on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied, for every sin on him was laid; here in the death of Christ I live.” The good news — of first importance — is, “Christ died for our sins”. The debt we owed we could not pay! He took away the sins of the world.
This event, his crucifixion, was not a surprise to the Father or to Jesus himself! His arrest, his beating, crucifixion and death came about…
As promised. Of all the many promises let’s look at Isaiah 53:4-6. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah, the Prince of prophets, spelled out, for our examination, the death he would die.
Hundreds of years before Isaiah lived, King David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, recorded specific details in Psalm 22:16-18 “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— 17  I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
King David wrote these words hundreds of years before anyone was ever crucified. He had no example of it to draw from. Instead, he saw a vision from God concerning the future King — King Jesus!
Hundreds of years later, Zachariah wrote in chapter 12 verse 10, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”
There are many other references in the Old Testament that would lead us to recognize the death of Jesus as being essential to our salvation. The Bible is very specific, the soul that sins shall die! Jesus had no sin of his own therefore he could not die until he accepted the sin of the world. Throughout history there have been those who have taught that he did not die he simply swooned on the cross. The biblical evidence is dead set against such a possibility. What can we offer is…
Proof of his death. Let’s look to Mark 15:42-45 as proof. “And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph.”
The eyewitnesses to Jesus’ death include all classes of people. There was the common people who followed him in the thousands during his ministry on earth. There was the faithful disciples, both men and women, who stayed with him during the glory years of his ministry. There were also leading members of the Sanhedrin. Some were there to scorn him. Some of the council members were observing the death of their Lord. Some who stood at the foot of the cross were Roman soldiers!
All of these people had often looked death in the face. One thing they knew for certain was how to determine that a person was dead! They knew what death was. Pilate was surprised that he had died so quickly. So he sent for the centurion for proof.
Jesus himself had said that he would lay down his life. No one would take it from him but he would give it up at the right time. When he had paid the full price for the sin of the world he said, “It is finished”, and laid down his life for our sin. (John 19:30)
The Romans — experts in death — determined that he had died by pushing a spear into his side and the fluid that came out was not just blood instead it was blood and water. We have that on good report! John the apostle was there and was an eyewitness. (John 19:35)
Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both high-ranking council members, took his body from the cross into a nearby garden where a new tomb was waiting. Jesus only needed to borrow it for a short time. We must remember that he died and…
He came back. He had promised he would in John 10:17-18. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
Jesus knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would die on the cross. He also knew that he would carry to the cross — and condemn — the sin of the world. On that cross Jesus defeated death and destroyed the power of Satan (Hebrews 2:14). As a result of Jesus’ death all those who live in fear of death may be freed. Jesus had promised he would return…
On the third day. Early in his ministry the Pharisees had asked him to show them a sign authorizing him to clear the temple. We find his reply in John 2:19-22. Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
King Herod is usually presented in a very bad light! And he deserves it! In order to try to win the hearts of the people Herod went on many building binges. One of those binges was restoring the temple to its former glory. He dedicated the greatest part of his life to these magnificent projects. The temple court was expanded to about 35 acres. The temple itself was white stone and gold. It was described as glorious in the sunlight. It could be seen from any direction but it was more pronounced when viewed from the west. This temple was glorious! But it was more glorious because it was the temple that Jesus walked through.
I recall the first time we came to the temple precincts back in 1985. It was a very emotional experience when I thought of this fact: Jesus himself walked on these steps and streets. No matter how glorious the building was the most important temple was the temple of flesh that the living Lord Jesus occupied. He promised that he would return and he did on the third day. Let me explain: day one) he was taken from the cross and laid in the tomb; day two) he lay in the tomb while the living people observed the Passover. Day three) as the sun set on the Sabbath he was in the tomb and it was the third day. When the sun rose he had long since risen! Then, in order to establish his victory over death and hell…
He appeared to individuals. Let’s look at John 20:11-15a But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
Jesus took the time to show himself to those who had been closest to him. Mary Magdalene had been described as having had seven demons cast out of her. Jesus was very precious to her. Later, we know that he spent time on the Emmaus Road with two disciples. These individual appearances were laying the groundwork for him to present himself to groups.
He appeared to large groups. John had been one of the first to go to the tomb but he did not see the risen Lord there let’s look at John 20:19. On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
The disciples had gathered in a locked room questioning each other as to what they should do. Suddenly, he appeared in the room with them! The Bible doesn’t tell us how he got in but it does note the fact that the doors were locked. Well I can tell you for certain locked doors never bothered our God! However, when he entered the room one important person was missing — Thomas! It was Thomas who told his fellow disciples that they should go with Jesus to Jerusalem in order to die with him (John 11:16). It was also Thomas who doubted and for that we usually remember him. However…
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” ;
Jesus would not leave Thomas out. So he gave him the opportunity to return to the upper room and be identified as one of the living apostles.
The next appearance is found only in 1 Corinthians 15:6. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
Obviously, there were many appearances of Jesus that are not recorded in the written word. This mass gathering could have happened anytime before the day of Pentecost. And then…
Last of all, he appeared to Paul. Let’s look back to Paul’s words 1 Corinthians 9:1. Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? Paul qualified as an apostle by having seen the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. There we have this account found in Acts 9:5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
For Paul, this was the final proof that Jesus was really the Messiah who conquered death and hell. I praise God that we are able to benefit from Jesus work on the cross, in the tomb and his ascension into heaven.
The most important truth about Jesus, so far as mankind is concerned, is that he was crucified, buried, and raised again on the third day. All of which was promised throughout the Old Testament. Paul considered himself the least of all the apostles because he had persecuted the church of God. He knew that he did not deserve this high honor yet he had been chosen before he was born. The same grace of God that gives us salvation worked in Paul.

All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton, Ill, Standard Bible Society.