Friday, April 20, 2012

"Doubting” Thomas

John 20:24-29 Now ‍Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, ‍“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. ‍Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‍“Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‍“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, ‍“My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? ‍Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

If impostors and deceivers had compiled the Bible for their own private advantage, they would never have told mankind that one of the disciples of Jesus had behaved as Thomas here did. Just look what Thomas missed by not being with the other believers first time Jesus appeared. Throughout history Thomas has been known as the doubting disciple. We don't know a lot about him. We certainly don't know as much about Thomas we do about Peter, James and John. He was one of the Twelve who were chosen, out of all the disciples, to be close to Jesus. So Thomas was important and it may help our Christian walk to see what John has to say about him. Matthew, Mark and Luke simply list him among the names of the Twelve. These three earlier Gospels leave this story out possibly because Thomas was still alive. John, writing much later, tells us more.

Thomas spoke up when he needed to.
One of those times was when Jesus was headed into danger. John 11:14-16 tells us, “Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 ‍So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, ‍that we may die with him.”” Jesus and his disciples had been staying away from the vicinity of Jerusalem. The religious leaders had been trying for some time to arrest him. Jesus knew that the arrest would come but he also knew it wasn’t time yet. Thomas was with him, along with the others, when word came that Jesus' dear friend Lazarus was very sick. Jesus’ first reaction was to wait two more days and then say, “Let us go to him.” That was when Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Thomas was disappointed in his desire to die with Jesus. He would yet be given the opportunity to die for Jesus a long time after. The tradition of the early church is that Thomas left the Holy Land and founded the first church in Babylon. Then he went on to India. There are Christians living today who believe they are descended from people who were converted by Thomas before he was killed for his faith.

Jesus’ followers often expected to die for him. Many years later Paul would go to Jerusalem expecting to die there — but he was disappointed! He was beaten by the crowd who intended to kill him but he was rescued by the Romans! After Paul was examined and locked up in prison Jesus came and stood by him and said, “Take courage, for ‍as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must ‍testify also in Rome.” (Acts 23:11) After Paul had borne witness in Rome — knowing that he would soon pay the price of discipleship — he wrote to Timothy, “For ‍I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my ‍departure has come. 7 ‍I have fought the good fight, ‍I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is ‍laid up for me ‍the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, ‍the righteous judge, will award to me on ‍that Day, and not only to me but also to all ‍who have loved his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

In 1724 Isaac Watts would write a song as part of a sermon entitled, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross?” It goes like this:
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?

Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?

Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.

Thomas also spoke up when he didn't understand Jesus. John 14:1-7 tells us, “‍“Let not your hearts be troubled. ‍Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In ‍my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that ‍I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you ‍to myself, that ‍where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 ‍Thomas said to him, “Lord, ‍we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am ‍the way, and ‍the truth, and ‍the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 ‍If you had known me, you would have ‍known my Father also. From now on you do know him and ‍have seen him.”
I am sure that the disciples often failed to understand what the master had to say. This was a prime example. At least three times Jesus had told them that he would be crucified and would rise again on the third day. He was going away but they didn’t understand it! Instead of sitting there confused, like the rest of the disciples, Thomas spoke up, “Lord, we do not know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” This seemed like a good question to him and Jesus patiently explained, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Thomas needed to know that and so do we. Our Lord Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. There is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved.

He was not there when Jesus first appeared to the disciples.
He simply did not expect the risen Lord. No matter how many times Jesus had said he would be crucified and come back to life the disciples didn’t get it! So after the crucifixion of Jesus, apparently, Thomas stayed away. Maybe he had trouble settling with his grief. If he didn’t believe Jesus would rise from the dead he might’ve thought the rest of them were a little crazy pretending Jesus had been raised from the dead

In fact, he openly rejected the idea. John 20:25b Thomas said to the other disciples, ‍“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” This is utterly amazing!
Think of what Thomas had seen. He saw five thousand men, not counting women and children, fed with a boy's lunch! He saw Jesus, and Peter, walk on the water! He had seen lepers healed! He had seen the eyes of the blind opened! He had seen Lazarus raised from the dead! He had heard Jesus’ teaching and had even been willing to die with him! But after seeing him die he wouldn’t believe that he would come back from the dead. All of us slip into times of doubt and we can be encouraged by Thomas. If the Lord Jesus would patiently bring Thomas around to faith he will surely do the same thing for us when we doubt.

But he was open to discuss it. On the next Lord’s day, when the disciples gathered together in the upper room Thomas was with them! His doubt did not turn him away from the fellowship of believers. He knew there was something special about these people and he needed to be there with them. I don’t believe he went expecting to see the risen Lord. It could very well be that Jesus appeared the second time just for Thomas’ sake. The thought of that is encouraging to me! I’m often slow to catch on to what God is up to and I need him to reach out and draw me along. The story of Thomas’ doubt should encourage us all to come to the throne of grace and trust that the one we are unsure of is sure of us. Even when we are faithless he is faithful! J. C. Ryle, in his commentary on The Gospel John, wrote, “Our Lord has many weak children in His family, many dull pupils in His school, many raw soldiers in His army, many lame sheep in His flock. Yet He bears with them all, and casts none away.”

Thomas confessed Jesus to be his Lord and his God!
For a second time Jesus came to a room where the door was locked yet he entered because he cannot be locked out. No matter how often we turn away he will come to us by his will not ours. He will not leave us alone — praise God for that! Jesus had the promise of the Father, “And ‍this is the will of him who sent me, ‍that I should lose nothing of ‍all that he has given me, but ‍raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who ‍looks on the Son and ‍believes in him ‍should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6: 39-40) Paul would later write to the Romans, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, ‍“For your sake ‍we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than ‍conquerors through ‍him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39) Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! We may turn away, we may drag our feet, we may doubt and even consider ourselves without faith but he will remain faithful — Praise God!

Thomas proclaimed Jesus "Lord". In Romans chapter 10 verses 9 & 10 we are told if we confess Jesus as Lord with the mouth and believe with the heart that God raised Jesus from the dead we will be saved. The term “Lord” is used a number of times in the Gospels for God himself. It was not a casual term like it might be today. When Thomas recognized that all that Jesus had said was true his relationship to Jesus was forever changed. Jesus had been his Rabbi, or teacher, but now Jesus was his Lord! Now, Thomas belonged to Jesus! The doubting one was convinced because of the patient love of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Then Thomas proclaimed Jesus as "God". This is a much more serious confession! At that time one might call a social superior “Lord” though it was a serious term to use. Now, Thomas adds, “My God”. If there was ever any doubts as to the divinity of Jesus this should settle it. When Cornelius fell down at the feet of Peter and would have worshiped him, the Apostle refused such honor at once--"Stand up; I too am a man." (Acts 10:26.) When the people of Lystra would have done sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, "they tore their clothes, and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men of like nature with you." (Acts 14:14.) But in this case, there was not a word of rebuke. Instead Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? ‍Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus could hardly have made it clearer. He is God!

There is no doubt that the divinity of Jesus is a foundational truth for Christianity. If Jesus was not God then there is a limit to what he can do for us. He can’t be our mediator. He can’t bear our sins since he would have sins of his own. He can’t give us salvation since he would need salvation himself. Many years ago C. S. Lewis put forth the idea that Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic or he is Lord. There is no middle ground. It Jesus is not Lord then everything we know about him is false. If Jesus is not Lord he was a deceiver, he was deceived or he was insane. Where do you stand? Is he your Lord?

All Scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn 1:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

As… Even So!

John 20:19-23 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, ‍the doors being locked where the disciples were ‍for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‍“Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, ‍he showed them his hands and his side. Then ‍the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As ‍the Father has sent me, ‍even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he ‍breathed on them and said to them, ‍“Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 ‍If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

Jesus came and stood among them! The door was locked and yet he entered! It little matters how this happened. The door may have miraculously opened as a prison cell would later open for Peter. Or, Jesus may have just appeared in the room. After all, he is now in his glorified body. What matters is the fact that he was there at all! After all, they had seen him die! It had been reported by others that Jesus had been raised from the dead but the disciples don't seem to have believed that. Now Jesus appears to them. Only John gives us this account. Luke records a similar instance but he wasn't an eyewitness. John was there and even though he wrote many years later this event was burned into his memory. "Peace be with you" Jesus told them. Then he repeated those words and added, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."

Jesus, the sent One!
Jesus was sent from heaven with a particular plan in mind. This was not a last resort it was a first choice. He had always known that man, in his own strength,would fail to live up to the glory of God. We need to remember that God operates on an entirely different level from us. The plan of the ages was simply that God himself would come into the world to bear the sins of mankind. The cross was never a surprise to God. A part of the process leading to the cross was the work that Jesus did on Earth.

Jesus was sent to do the Father's will. John 5:30 records the words of Jesus when he said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and ‍my judgment is just, because ‍I seek not my own will ‍but the will of him who sent me,” This is a remarkable statement! To hear the creator the universe say, “I can do nothing on my own.” is absolutely amazing! In order to set a pattern for our lives he lived a life that was entirely human yet without sin. The temptations of Satan in the wilderness were attempts to get Jesus to act like God. “Turn the stones to bread” the devil said. “If you’re the Son of God”, “All these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.” Jesus was not truly tempted in the way we might have been. He came from the Father to do the Father’s will.

Jesus was sent to reveal the Father's will. John 6:38-40 tells us “For ‍I have come down from heaven, not to do ‍my own will but ‍the will of him ‍who sent me. 39 And ‍this is the will of him who sent me, ‍that I should lose nothing of ‍all that he has given me, but ‍raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who ‍looks on the Son and ‍believes in him ‍should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” I love it when the Bible points me to the answer of a question in my life. “This is the will of him who sent me”, Jesus said. Wow, the Father’s will in Jesus’ life was, wondrously, that nothing given to him would be lost! The will of the Father is that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life! This is not a Calvinist or an Armenian doctrine, these are the words of Jesus himself. “Everyone who looks and believes will be saved!” Why would one look, except the Father reveals the Son? How can one believe except the Father enables faith? Jesus came from the Father to reveal the Father’s will.

Jesus was sent so that we could know the Father. Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, ‍that they know you ‍the only ‍true God, and ‍Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Many years ago a friend of mine asked me, “what is eternal life?”. I began a rather complicated answer beginning with the Father, continuing on forever, etc. and he simply asked, “What does the Bible say?” I said, “Show me” and he opened to this passage of Scripture and read it to me! Eternal life is knowing the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent. It’s that simple and that complicated all at once! Once we know him and receive the Son — believing on him — we have eternal life! Jesus came so that we could know the Father.

Jesus becomes the sender.
Jesus, who was sent from the Father, became the sender. He did this by a process that was predetermined before the world began. Jesus did not come into the world to study man and plot a course for correcting the problem. He already knew what to do when he came. Central to all of Jesus’ life was the process of setting an example.

Setting an example. In John 13 Jesus shows us how to minister. He had come to the end of his human life. He loved his disciples even though one of them would betray him. They came into the room where no servant was present and reclined at table without washing their feet. Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, took the basin and towel and began the process of washing the feet of his disciples. This would’ve been the job of the lowest servant in the household. The disciples must’ve been embarrassed that their Master would kneal at their feet and begin to bathe off the dust. He had set an example for us to follow. No one in the kingdom is above, or too good for, the lowest job.

In a recent Undercover Boss TV show, Harlan Kent, President and CEO of Yankee Candle, went undercover and soon found himself cleaning up and even scrubbing the toilets. He did not hesitate nor did he grumble. He was there to do whatever needed doing and that is a good example of a leader. I am sure he gained respect in his company because he was willing to do the down and dirty jobs.

Jesus trained his disciples. In Matthew 10:24-25 he gave specific instructions. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant‍ above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.…” Jesus had taught by example and then he gave specific instructions. I’m afraid that many who claim to be disciples of Jesus today would turn away rather than be as he was. When I see some Christian leaders’ lifestyles I cringe at the thought that this is what people think Christian ministry is really about. Throughout history there have been many godly men who have lived the example of Jesus. One that often comes to my mind is J. Hudson Taylor. Taylor was the founder the China Inland Mission in 1865 when he was in his 20s. He began the mission at a time when there were only about a hundred Western missionaries in China. He had no large financial backers but relied entirely upon God. He dressed in Chinese clothing and plaited his hair into a pigtail like the Chinese scholars did. He moved away from the coastal cities where the wealthy Westerners lived. He called for other to come and help and live like a servant to the Chinese. During his lifetime he saw hundreds of missionaries come to China in complete dependence upon God. He also saw thousands of Chinese come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus not only set an example for his disciples and trained his disciples the also empowered his disciples. As John told the story found in John 20:22 Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Luke tells us in Acts 1:8, “…But you will receive ‍power ‍when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and ‍you will be ‍my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and ‍Samaria, and ‍to the end of the earth.” Remember, the work that must be done in the kingdom to win the world to Christ cannot be done in human strength. The work that needs to be done can only be done by the power of God. Any time we are called to a special ministry we are also empowered to do it. The gifts of the Spirit are given to enable the world to receive the witness we give. Spiritual gifts are not designed to glorify the person who receives the gift, or exercises it. Spiritual gifts are given to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ!

Now we are sent as he was! When Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I’m sending you.” He wasn’t just talking about the twelve. He was speaking of all the believers throughout all of history. His closest disciples laid down their lives so that the gospel could go into all the world.

We too are to carry the gospel into all the world. Acts 1:8 actually lays out a process. “…you will receive ‍power ‍when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and ‍you will be ‍my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and ‍Samaria, and ‍to the end of the earth.” Jerusalem corresponds to our local community. By every means possible we are to take the gospel to our neighbors, friends and even our family. Judea and Samaria represent the region we live in and the area just beyond us. We cannot be content with just telling those in our village about Jesus. When his disciples came to him and told him that everyone was seeking for him. Jesus said, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for ‍that is why I came out.” (Mark 1:38) Jesus had a missions mentality. Not content with attracting crowds he wanted to go on to the next villages. J. T. Davis, the former director missions for Central Association, used to say, “We came here as pioneers but now we have become settlers.” There are dozens of villages around us that need an ongoing witness in the form of a church or Bible study. But it’s not enough to reach our village and our region. We are under orders to go to all the world.

We are to go for the specific purpose of making disciples of all nations. Matthew 28:18-20 is called “The Great Commission”. Here we find the last words of Jesus as recorded by Matthew, ‍“…All authority ‍in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 ‍Go therefore and ‍make disciples of ‍all nations, ‍baptizing them ‍in‍ ‍the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them ‍to observe all that ‍I have commanded you. And behold, ‍I am with you always, to ‍the end of the age.” Too often we are content with “making decisions” rather than making disciples. The central focus of this passage is the imperative, “make disciples”. The process is shown in the words: “go”, “baptizing” and “teaching”. Most of us “go” every day. We go to work, we go shopping, we go to visit a friend, etc. In today’s world we “go” even when we stay home. At least many of us do. We “go” by mail (writing a letter or card), by telephone or on the Internet. All of those are excellent ways of “going”. Jesus is very specific, as we go we should disciple others. And when they receive him as Lord and Master we are to baptize them and teach them what he taught us.

We are also to multiply witnesses. Paul wrote to Timothy and gave him specific instruction about discipleship in 2 Timothy 2:1-2 he wrote, “You then, ‍my child, ‍be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and ‍what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses ‍entrust to faithful men ‍who will be able to teach others also.” There are generations of witnesses here. Paul, of course, is the first who witnessed to Timothy. The second is Timothy entrusting the message to faithful men. The third-generation is those men who also teach others. If everyone would share their faith with someone else each year the world we live in would be radically changed. We need to plant, water and let God bring the increase.

Jesus promised that those who believe in him will do the work that he did! You find that promise in the Gospel of John chapter 14, verse twelve. We cannot do that in our own strength but we will try! The flesh always tries to assert itself. We can only do the works that he did by doing them the same way he did. As we have seen, Jesus himself said, "I can do nothing on my own." He could do, on Earth, only what the Father did. Even Jesus, in his work on earth, had to have clear direction from the Father just as we have to have clear direction today. What ever God calls us to do He empowers us to do. He never calls us to anything that he doesn't equip us for! Have you been called by him? Then he is in the process of equipping you to do what he has called you to do. Put your trust in Christ and follow him!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Luke 24:1-12, "But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened."

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is a historical fact! Jesus was publicly buried and his tomb was guarded by soldiers who were not sympathetic. His disciples, including Peter, were cowards who hid themselves, or lied about their relationship, during his trial and crucifixion. Yet, forty days later they would boldly stand in front of the same crowd that called for Jesus' crucifixion and proclaim, "… this Jesus, … you crucified … God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it," (Acts 2:23-24) How could they have been so brave if they had not seen the risen Lord? There are people, even today, who claim that the resurrection was a fabrication of the apostles. If that were true the authorities would've produced the body and stopped the whole movement in its tracks. None of the arguments against the resurrection hold water in the light of the fact that his disciples believed so strongly that he was raised that they were willing to die rather than deny it. What can we learn from his resurrection?

This resurrection was different from others.
Lazarus, and others, had been raised from the dead but died again. While these earlier resurrections were very significant in proving that Jesus is the Christ they were temporary. The widow's son at Nain, I am sure, was given many years to take care of his mother. He was given a second chance I'm sure he made the best use of it. Lazarus was restored to his family and lived on for a time as a witness to the power of God over death but he died again. I am sure he had less fear of death. After all, he had been there! It was no longer a mystery to him!

Jesus was the first of a new kind of human.
Paul presents the idea in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Here, he uses the word "firstfruits" and then notes that death came by a man and by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. Many theologians use the term, "Federal Head" to describe Adam and Jesus. Adam's sin resulted in death for all mankind. Jesus' death, burial and resurrection resulted in the hope of life eternal. Jesus became the head of a new race of humans. A race of people who no longer live in the kingdom of darkness but have been transferred to the kingdom of light.

He will never die again.
Romans 6:9 tells us exactly that, We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. Dominion is an interesting word. The Greek word that it translates speaks of influence and authority over. When Jesus was born of Mary in Bethlehem he was born into a body that was under the curse of sin. The body not the baby was under that curse. The person who lived in the body was God himself. He was the Lord of life and as such was never strictly under the dominion of sin, but his body was. When he was raised from the dead is body took on new characteristics. In his first appearance to his disciples he came into a closed room. He didn't need a door, but he always had before! They could touch him and feel him. Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds and see that they are real. Later he walked with two of his disciples and they didn't recognize him. When he broke bread with them they suddenly recognized him and he vanished from their sight! Again, a little later, he met some of them by the sea and cooked breakfast for them. For thirty-three years he had walked on the earth in his earth-suit. Now, he was walking around in his heaven-suit. It was a body that was perfected, made forever free from weakness, sickness, and death. There is a heaven-suit waiting for all those who have faith in him. The Bible says that when he appears we shall be like him! Have you trusted him? Do you have a heaven-suit waiting for you?

Christ's resurrection is essential to Christianity.
The empty tomb sets Christianity apart from all the world religions. The great teachers of the Greeks all died and remain dead. The great teachers of the Far East all died and remain dead. None of them offer eternal life because they don't have it to offer. The life of Jesus, not just the time he was on the Earth as a man, but the life force of Jesus is, and always was, eternal! He was there at the creation. All that was created, including life itself, came from him. As John would say, "… in him was life, and the life was the light of men".

Through his resurrection we were born anew.
1 Peter 1:3, says Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,… When Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus to talk about his teachings Jesus surprised him by saying, "… unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) Apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ there is no eternal life. We were born into the kingdom of death and darkness. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ gives us the right to be called children of God. Children who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:13) Without this new birth mankind has no hope. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And, the wages of sin is death, but the gift God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

Through his resurrection we are justified.
Romans 4:25 speaks of the Lord Jesus, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. What is justification? Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology defines justification as follows: Justification is an instantaneous legal act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight. What a marvelous thing this is! Having put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven, legally, and we are credited with Christ's righteousness. He took our sins since he had none of his own and gave us God's righteousness since we have none of our own. We should be overwhelmed by this truth. The power of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ gives us salvation and justification and guarantees our resurrection.

Jesus' resurrection ensures ours.
In 2 Corinthians 4:13-15, Paul tells us, Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. In fact, Paul goes farther in Ephesians chapter 2 verses 4-6, when he says, But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. God will raise us up with Jesus because he HAS raised us up with Jesus! He took our sins to the cross and nailed them there. He took our sins into the grave and left them there. He raised us up with Jesus and seated us with him in the heavenly places. Of course we are not physically there yet! But so far as God is concerned, according to Scripture, he raised us up and already considers us as seated with him.

Christ's resurrection applies to our life now!
This is not some pie in the sky by-and-by scheme. This has practical applications for our lives right now! Through the power of the resurrection he does several things for us.

He gives strength to our service.
After a long discussion of the power of the resurrection in first Corinthians chapter 15 Paul tells us in verse 58, Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. Remember, any time you see the word "therefore" in Scripture you should pause for a moment and ask yourself, "What Is therefore there for?" In order to answer that question look at the material just before it. For most of the chapter before verse 58 Paul is talking about the concept of the resurrection. Since the resurrection releases so much power in the human life we can be: steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labor is not in vain. Sometimes it seems to be and sometimes we are discouraged. A lady by the name of Lucie E. Campbell wrote a song in 1933, that goes like this, "If when you give the best of your service, Telling the world that the savior has come; Be not dismayed when men don't believe you, He understands; He'll say, "Well done". Oh when I come to the end of my journey, Weary of life and the battle is won; Carrying the staff and the cross of redemption, He'll understand and say, "Well done."

He inspires us to seek a heavenly reward.
Because Christ has been raised, and because we have been raised with him, we are to seek for a heavenly reward and set our mind on the things of heaven. Paul wrote to the Colossians words that encourage us to look to our reward. In Colossians 3:1-4 he says, If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. We spend too much of our time on earth looking for temporary satisfaction. There's nothing secure about earthly rewards. Peter talks about our security in his first epistle chapter 1 when he says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5) Remember, Jesus said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
Do you have an inheritance waiting for you in heaven? If you put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and confessed him as your Lord you do.

He encourages us not to sin.
Paul wrote to the Romans to tell them that by virtue of the resurrected Christ, and his resurrecting power in us, we are to "consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" He then goes on to say, Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6:11-14. I believe the greatest promise in Scripture, for the believer, apart from promises related to salvation is contained in verse fourteen. Sin will have no dominion over you! Admittedly, it's in future tense but it is God's promise to us and is part of the process of growing in grace and the knowledge of the Lord. The resurrection power includes victory in life and over death.

In the early days of the church the only "special days" were the first day of the week, as a day of worship, and Passover Sunday later called "Easter" by the established church. It's the only calendar date that is essential to the Christian church. Apart from the resurrection, Christianity is just another man-made religion rooted in the flesh and not worthy of our consideration. As Paul said, "… If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:14) In the resurrection we have hope that we could never have without it. Not just hope of heaven but hope of a better life in the here and now! Have you trusted him?

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

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Sunrise 2012

The Resurrection
28 ‍Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and ‍the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for ‍an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 ‍His appearance was like lightning, and ‍his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and ‍became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, ‍as he said. Come, see the place where he‍ lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, ‍he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” 8 So they departed quickly from the tomb ‍with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus ‍met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and ‍took hold of his feet and ‍worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; ‍go and tell ‍my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” English Standard Version, 2001

We have a written record of at least three times when Jesus told the disciples that he would be delivered up, beaten and crucified. He also said that he would rise again on the third day! They never seemed to understand. After all they had seen him do, one would think they would have clung to his every word, but no, they never understood!

The two Marys must’ve heard some of those accounts when Jesus promised to return from the dead. But obviously on the Sunday morning as the sun was rising they expected to find his body where it had been placed on Friday afternoon. Matthew’s account is probably taken from their testimony. When they arrived they found an Angel sitting on the stone that should’ve blocked the entrance to the tomb. I’m not sure what an appearance like lightning looks like but I can imagine some possibilities. His clothing was white as snow.

The brave guards fainted at the very sight of the Angel. (or Angels) So when the women came on the scene, the tomb was open. That solved a problem that they had obviously been worried about — how to move the stone! And there, in the vicinity of the tomb, lay the guards whose job had been to keep the disciples from stealing the body! What an absurd idea! To think that the disciples who had run away and hidden themselves when he was crucified would then come back on the scene, overpower the guards, (who were trained soldiers) and steal his body so they could pretend he had been raised from the dead!

Well, the women were frightened. This was way more than they expected! The Angel immediately moved to help them relax. He said, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, ‍as he said. Come, see the place where he‍ lay.” I suppose that little conversation caused them to calm down and relax. No, I’m sure they were still quite excited.

The Angel gave them instructions, “Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, ‍he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

Immediately the women departed from the tomb. They were filled with mixed emotions, fear and great joy. They had walked to the tomb but as they left they ran!

And as if they’d not been through enough, Jesus met them on the way!

What would they have expected Jesus to say? Of course I can’t know but I have an idea that what he did say was not what they expected. The ESV says, “Greetings”, while the KJV says, “All Hail”. These are two translations of a Greek word that expresses joy, more than that, extreme joy! Remember, he had been rejected, abandoned, arrested, beaten, spat upon, dragged through the streets and crucified! He had been hung out as a common criminal and buried in a borrowed tomb. Now, having been raised from the dead to never die again he was filled with extreme joy and shared it with the first people he met!

Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; ‍go and tell ‍my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” In effect, he repeated the instructions the Angel had given because they probably were too excited to remember.

What an exciting morning the two ladies had had. Now they had to go tell the disciples what they had been instructed to say. You see, the disciples also had bad memories. They didn’t remember that he would rise again on the third day. And it took them over a week to go to Galilee according to the instructions they had received.

The disciples’ reaction is encouraging to me. I often “don’t get it” the first time the Lord gives me directions. In fact, I often need two or more reminders and then I’m still slow to get the job done. Slow as they were, they were effective in their ministry because they were empowered by the Holy Spirit and were faithful to the word of God and the heavenly vision.

Let’s determine to be equally faithful and trust God’s Spirit to guide us in the future as we serve him.