Saturday, April 18, 2020

041920 Devoted to God

The Book of Acts begins with a bridge carrying us from the record of Jesus’ life into the record of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the apostles. That earlier record had concluded in his death on the cross, his burial, and his return to life on the third day in magnificent glory! Then Jesus spent 40 days preparing his disciples for the promised power of the Holy Spirit. That event happened on Pentecost.
Doctor Luke begins the second book with a description of Jesus’ ascent into heaven. He had assured his disciples that they would not have to work alone. He promised them that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and enable them to do the work of the kingdom of God.
During those last days Jesus spent on earth before his arrest he repeatedly promised he would never leave them as orphans. Let’s look at one example of that teaching Jesus said…
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:15-18.  
After Jesus had prepared his disciples over 40 days he ascended into heaven in their presence. As they stood looking into the heavens where Jesus had ascended suddenly two men stood by them. Those two were angels who had observed Jesus’ teaching. They knew what Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit. In amazement the angels asked, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
(Acts 1:11) These angels lived in a world of obedience to the Father! They could not believe that the disciples were still standing there. You see, Jesus had laid out the plan of ministry and it certainly seemed the apostles should be getting on with it!
Ten days after his ascension into heaven the Jews observed the feast of the harvest — Pentecost! This is the best way to celebrate harvest. When people come to faith in Christ it is because the Holy Spirit has begun the work in them. And that day of Pentecost was a very special one! The Holy Spirit would begin his work of bringing the gospel to the world through these men. That would result in a great harvest beginning that day.
When the day of Pentecost came the disciples were together. They heard the sound of a rushing wind! They saw the room they were in filled with the Spirit’s fire! They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in languages they did not know!
They left the upper room where they had been and hurried to the temple courtyard where they found a great crowd of people prepared to celebrate the harvest. The people at the temple that day were amazed because each one of them heard the gospel in their native language.
Some were prepared to hear the gospel some just made fun of them.
In order to make sense out of what was happening Peter stood to explain and in that explanation he preached the first Christian sermon! Peter began with a passage from the prophet Joel. Then he turned their attention to what this was really all about — Jesus of Nazareth! Peter pointed out that Jesus had established his authority with mighty signs and wonders. It may well have been that many of those standing in that courtyard that day had stood on the pavement in Pilate’s judgment hall crying out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” (John 19:15). Peter’s sermon caused them to be convicted of their guilt.
We do not have the full text of the sermon Peter preached that day we are simply told that “with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them” (Acts 2:40).
The result of the Holy Spirit’s work that day was the baptism of about 3,000 new believers. Wow, what a harvest! Now this leads to a problem — a problem every pastor would like to have! How do you baptize 3,000 people? I wasn’t there, so I cannot prove what I’m about to say. Remember, in that upper room there about 120 disciples. With 3000 new converts that works out to about 25 new believers for each disciple. Twice, in my ministry I have baptized about 20 new believers at one time. The first was when Pastor Don DeGarmo and I were re-establishing Buck Creek Baptist Church in Mississippi. The second was when we were beginning this church! That leaves us with another minor problem. Where could 3,000 people be baptized the same day?
The answer to that question is in the archaeological findings below the temple mount. Cherlyn and I were with a group that came to the steps that Jesus, and Paul, along with many other people we know about, had ascended into the temple. The great doors of the temple are now filled with stone but they were open in the first century and before. If you will come to the bottom step and look about you will see there are several mikvah located there. “What is a mikvah?” You might ask. I’ll tell you a story to explain.
Several years ago we had a wedding here at our church building. The bride and groom were not members of our church. But they were friends of mine. During the set up in preparation for the event some of the children discovered our baptistery. In this particular wedding party the bride was Jewish. One of the men in her family came up to the group of children. He told them that the Temple they attended on the Sabbath had one of those! He called it a mikvah! And it is used as part of the purification rituals of their faith.
Now, back to the first century! When these 3,000 new converts required baptism it was a simple matter of lining them up at the foot of the steps, paying the mikvah owner his fee and passing through the water with each disciple baptizing several new believers.
After the addition of these new converts, Doctor Luke tells us what their lives were like afterward. The record is found in Acts 2:42-47.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.’
We must remember that “they” are the apostles and other disciples of Jesus. The new church, or assembly, is made up of those who had walked with Jesus from the very beginning when John the Baptist had proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) The next day two of John’s disciples followed Jesus and the church began to be formed. Now, on the day of Pentecost, the church had a tremendous growth spurt! This new gathering of believers devoted themselves. Devoted? The King James translates verse 42a, “And they continued steadfastly”. I would say that the mark of a true Christian is that they are faithful in the fellowship of believers.
The writer of Hebrews puts it this way,And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
If Satan can’t keep a person from accepting Christ he will do everything possible to keep that person from the fellowship of believers. There are many ways that he does this and we don’t have time to go into all of them now. We must remember that the church forming in the Book of Acts was a fellowship that had several characteristics that should have gone on until today. One of those characteristics is a love for the word of God and a desire to understand it.
They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching — the Bible! Certainly not a Bible like ours but no less the word of God! The Bible they had consisted of the Old Testament. Now, a lot of people reject the Old Testament. In fact, there are churches that designate themselves as a New Testament fellowship. Anyone who knows me knows that most of my sermons are based on the New Testament. But these believers did not have a New Testament! They were blessed with the same Bible that Jesus preached from. The same Bible that Peter, Paul, John, and the other apostles preached from.
The twelve were blessed with having spent three years with the author of that book. Two of them, on the road to Emmaus, had walked with Jesus, though they did not know it, during that walk Luke tells us, And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27). What a wonderful opportunity! To have been instructed by the Son of God about all the things in the Old Testament that concerned him. The author of the book was explaining it and they didn’t realize it until he was gone. These two must’ve surely been used of God to teach the new believers following the day of Pentecost.
They devoted themselves to fellowship. This characteristic in the original language is koinonia. It is often translated as “communion”. And we might mistake its use here as indicating the Lord’s Supper. I don’t believe that would be the correct understanding. Here I believe it should be translated “fellowship” or even “partnership”! These people having been born again, were spending their time with each other. They were devoted to God the Father and to the fellowship of the Son. They were steadfast!
They devoted themselves to breaking bread together!  I believe this indicates the Lord’s Supper! I suppose there are many people who might not agree with me but that’s all right, we can disagree, so long as we do it agreeably. I suspect that these first century believers broke bread in remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice and shared wine in remembrance of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross for our salvation.
A fourth characteristic of that fellowship was “prayers”! Some translations use the word “prayer”. I’m not quite sure why because the original language is clearly plural. They didn’t just mumble a prayer they spent time on their knees together with many prayers offered to the Father!
Right now, around the world the horrible consequences of a serious viral infection is spreading. That’s a negative consequence! Also, around the world laboratories are working on the cure for this virus. When that happens that will be a good consequence.
The entire human race comes into the world spiritually dead. The evil consequence of Adam’s and Eve’s sin. When they sinned they condemned all their unborn children — including us. That’s a bad consequence. However, God showed his love for us in this — while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. The consequence of his death is our only hope of salvation. He died once for all in order that those who put their faith in him might receive eternal life.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9-10) The Scripture says everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame. (Romans 10:11) Are you having trouble with the idea of faith? Go to the word of God and read. Again the Scripture says faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17)
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

041220 Resurrection

All that God wants us to know about the life of Jesus, his arrest and trial, and his resurrection from the dead is clearly presented in all four Gospels. During his life on earth there were others who were raised. In John’s account of Jesus’ life we find the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. (John 11:38-44). In the gospel of Luke we are told that Jesus brought a young man back to life and gave him to his mother (Luke 7:11-17). Mark records for us the returning of Jairus’ daughter from death to life (Mark 5:35-43). All of these and any others Jesus may have brought back to life only aged and died again. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is different. Paul tells us that he was the first fruit of a new kind of human! His new body was no longer subject to weakness, aging, or death, but it is able to live eternally. (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).
Jesus’ resurrected body is perfect. It has to be because it is going to exist forever. One of the first evidences of his change was the reaction of those who were closest to him. The last time his disciples had seen him was when he was taken down from the cross. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took his body wrapped in linen clothes with spices and placed him in a borrowed tomb (John 19:38-41). Mary Magdalene was outside that tomb when she saw two angels who wanted to know why she was weeping! These angels knew that Jesus had told his disciples — at least three times — that after his crucifixion he would come back on the third day (Matthew 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19). Therefore, the angels assumed his disciples would not expect his body be in the tomb. After all it had just been borrowed for a while! Mary turned away from the tomb and saw Jesus! Jesus asked the same question that the angels had, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Mary thought he was the gardener! How could that be? She was one of his closest disciples. I think there were two factors involved, perhaps three. One, when he was raised from the dead the grave clothes were left in the tomb. He would have needed something to wear. The gardener would’ve had a shed nearby and it would’ve contained his gardening clothes. Maybe!?!
Second, Mary had been there when Jesus was beaten nearly to death! Then along with the other women she had seen him taken from him the cross! Nothing could have caused her to forget what she had seen. Now, instead of a beaten bloody corpse she was looking at his resurrected body! She just did not recognize him. Or, third, she was prevented from recognizing him until he spoke her name.
(John 20:11-16).
Luke tells us that later in the same day two of his disciples left Jerusalem to go to Emmaus. As they were walking, Jesus approached them and they were kept from recognizing him — just as Mary may have been. They did not recognize him until he broke bread with them. As soon as they recognized him he disappeared. (Luke 24:13-31). After that Jesus presented himself to a group of his disciples hiding out in a locked room. (Luke 24:36-43). And over the next 40 days (Acts 1:3) Jesus repeatedly presented himself to a variety of his followers. (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).
One of those appearances came near the end of the 40 days. John the disciple recorded it for us (John 21:1-14). One afternoon Peter announced, “I am going fishing”. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with fishing. There was seven of Jesus’ disciples there that day. Some of these men were professional fishermen and yet they spent the night fishing and were empty-handed at daybreak. The sun was rising over the Golan Heights when they saw a man on the shore beside a fire. The man asked them if they had any fish. Then he instructed them to drop the net on the right side of the boat. When they did, the net filled with 153 large fish! Immediately John said to Peter, “It is the Lord” and Peter jumped in the water and waded ashore. All the efforts of the disciples did not produce any fish and yet Jesus had prepared a nice breakfast for them. Oh, he also filled their net.
The disciples had to get back to Jerusalem because Pentecost was coming!  They may have returned to the same room where they had been hiding.
The Book of Acts begins with Jesus’ promise that they would soon be baptized with the Holy Spirit. While they waited for the promise to be fulfilled they set about choosing a replacement for Judas. One of the qualifications was that this man should be a witness of the resurrection (Acts 1:15-26). Two men were nominated and Matthas was chosen. From that time forward the apostles were referred to as the twelve.
In the very first Christian sermon Peter quoted from Psalm 16 affirming that David foresaw the resurrection of the Christ 1000 years before Jesus was born. (Acts 2:25-32).
 The second sermon Peter preached followed the healing of a man who had been lame from birth. In that sermon he exalted Jesus as being the source of the power that healed the man (Acts 3:12-16). Immediately the priests and the temple guards arrested them! They were charged with proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:1-12). After spending the night in jail, Peter and John were questioned by the rulers of the Jews. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Paul emphasized the resurrection of Jesus to the point that his pagan audience thought of the resurrection as being a separate object of worship. Once when Paul was waiting for some of his friends in Athens…
Let me read Doctor Luke’s account, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. (Acts 17:16-18).
I have heard well-qualified preachers say that Paul’s time in Athens was wasted. I say not. As a result of his preaching about the resurrection Luke tells us, “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.” (Acts 17:34). Successful gospel preaching is any time men and women are brought to faith in Christ.
We can see from the historical record that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth was a central part of the teaching of the early church. What does this have to do with us today? Let’s look at a few answers to that question.
Peter introduces his first letter chapter 1, verses three through five: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
The Father causes us to be born again through the resurrection. If there is no resurrection there is no new birth! In his resurrection, Jesus earned us a new life — his life! This is not just an extension of our life it is implanting his life in us. The new birth gives us new life and that new life is his life! His life began before the beginning and will extend beyond the end. Let’s look at what Paul had to say, in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2, verses four through six…
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
The life we have from Adam and Eve is spiritually dead. It is absolutely essential that we have that life put to death so we can be born again. Baptism symbolizes death, burial and resurrection. Romans 6:3-4,  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
That new life is nothing less than the life of Christ himself! His life is essential to us. Looking ahead to verse six we find that our old man was crucified with Christ. Having been crucified with Christ we are set free from the bondage represented by the human life. Having died with him the power of his resurrection tells us that we were raised with him also. In the letter to the Colossians Paul assures us, If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4).
If we connect this to Romans six we see we died with him in order to receive the power of the resurrection. When Christ died we died with him! When he was placed in the tomb, in the mind of God, we were there also. When he was raised to new life we were raised with him. And since we are raised with him we should focus our minds on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Let’s return to Ephesians 2:4-6  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
We see that God made us alive with Christ. And — thanks be to God — raised us up with Jesus and seated us with him in the heavenlies! We are already with him in heaven. Remember, these things are written to those who are born again. They do not apply unless your old life is buried and you have received new life, life that is God’s life. To be born again is to have Christ’s life and that life, as it is laid out in Scripture is not your life somehow made better.
God never intended you to do your best to live the Christian life. He placed his spirit within you to live his life through you to bring glory and honor to himself. He does his work on earth through you but the battle is the Lord’s!
Let’s conclude with Romans 6:8-13. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 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.
And then finally verse 14, For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
If you are in Christ Jesus sin may be a large part of your lifestyle but it will not ultimately rule over you.
Jesus’ death on the cross puts our old man to death.
Jesus’ burial and resurrection takes our sin as far from us as the east is from the west. God takes our sin and buries it in the bottom of the sea through the power shown in the resurrection.
God’s word says that the child of God is identified with Christ. He is our life! His victory is our victory!
The problem of a lot of Christians who are truly born again is they grew up in a performance-based world. There have been many times in my life when I have definitely not “felt” like a Christian. And that because I was not, at that time, acting like a Christian. You don’t “feel” victorious? Well, rain on your feelings! We live by faith not by what we see or feel!
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
We have all sinned and failed to measure up to God’s standard. Romans 3:23.
Our sins have earned us death — spiritual death. Romans 6:23.
God shows his love for us — while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8. And…
if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
Romans 10:9-10
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.