Christianity 201

April 9, 2021

The New Normal, the Status Quo, and Jesus

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.Matt.21.33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

by Clarke Dixon

A year ago at this time we were talking about a new normal. That new normal now feels like the status quo with masks, social distancing, outbreaks, and lockdowns. Even as vaccines are rolled out, it feels like life under a pandemic is now the status quo, that these changes will be with us forever. At least that how it feels. The new normal has become the status quo and we are stuck with it.

This is eerily reminiscent of another great disruption.

We go back to the early chapters of Genesis when Adam and Eve were in the garden of Eden, in perfect relationship with God Who gave them life. The expectation was that they would live forevermore. This is a picture of what humanity could have been.

All that is life-giving was theirs, except for one condition, they were not to eat from one particular tree. I think you know what happened next.

Adam and Eve ate the fruit and plunged us into a new normal. They were kicked out of the garden, barred access to the tree of life, and death was now the expectation. Rebellion against God and God’s ways became the status quo. We can think of Cain killing Abel. The expectation of death became the status quo. We can think of Abel being killed by Cain. The picture of what humanity could have been became a picture of what humanity is; a people who are in rebellion against the Giver of life, a people who could always expect death because of separation from God. The new normal became the status quo.

Yet God gave us signs of hope, signs that this new status quo would not last forever.

We can think of a fresh start with Noah, a new beginning. Yet shortly after hitting the reset button, there was a return to the status quo of rebellion against God Who gives us life, and the expectation of death.

We can think of the promise God made to Abraham, to create from him a nation through whom all nations would be blessed, a promise reiterated to Isaac, and Jacob. We see progress on that promise through the rescue of Jacob’s descendants from Egypt. This will be a different kind of people, a people in relationship with God. Yet in the wilderness we see these rescued people living according to the status quo of rebellion against God Who gives life, and the experience of death.

We can think of the giving of the law as sign of hope, so that God’s people could be a different kind of people who, far from rebelling against God, would walk according to his law. They would operate according to a good sense of justice. For example, it was to be an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, instead of an arm and a leg plus an eye for an eye, and a head for a tooth. They would not sacrifice their children. They would take care of the vulnerable. They were to be a light to the other nations as they lived according to God’s law. Yet they did not have a very good track record of keeping the law. They succumbed to the status quo of rebellion against God Who gives life, and the expectation of death.

We can think of the sending of prophets as a sign of hope, so that God’s people could get back on track. Yet the response to the prophets pointed to the status quo of rebellion against the God Who gives life, and the experience of death.

There were many signs of hope. Yet the status quo persisted. The new normal, from the great disruption at the Garden of Eden, remained the status quo. It was like the discovery of a vaccine during a pandemic, and yet nothing seems to change.

But there was one more sign of hope. God sent His Son.

Jesus told a parable of a landowner who sent messengers to the farmers who were working his land. They kept beating up and killing the messengers. In the story of Jesus it was symbolic of God’s people ignoring and sometimes killing the prophets that God sent. In the story the landowner finally sent his own son. They killed him too. That points to Jesus. For God so loved the world that he sent His only begotten son, and we killed him! Rebellion against God and the expectation of death had become so normal, that we even killed Immanuel, “God with us.”

On Good Friday we recognize the status quo of rebellion against God and the experience of death made so visible at the cross.

But on Sunday there was a true sign of hope, of change, of the status quo being disrupted and the possibility of something new. The stone was rolled away, there was no body, for Jesus had risen from the dead. That is the greatest disruption to the status quo the world has ever seen. Jesus was obedient. Jesus is alive. This was different!

Our rebellion was no match for God’s love. In a world where rebellion was normally dealt with through power, through armies, and violence, God did not respond to our violence with his. Jesus took the nails.

One would expect that to be the end of it, the expectation of death is the status quo, correct? But Jesus rose from the dead, then told the disciples to go invite anyone and everyone to the Kingdom of God, to be part of His royal family.

Even those who were involved in the crucifixion of Jesus could respond to his invitation. It would be up to the enemies of Jesus whether they would stick with the status quo of rebellion against God and the expectation of death, or step into a new normal, a new normal of intimate relationship with God, walking with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, a new normal of living in Jesus, a Kingdom life that challenges the status quo of a world gone mad, a new normal of the fear of death giving way to the anticipation of everlasting life, a new normal made possible by the grace of God, forgiveness in and though Jesus.

It would be up to the enemies of Jesus, those who crucified him, whether to stick with the status quo of rebellion against God and the expectation of separation from God in death, or to step into a new normal.

And it is up to us.

Will it be status quo? Or will we enter into the new normal Jesus brings?

When Adam and Eve sinned, they ushered in a new normal. That new normal become the status quo. That status quo made the events of Good Friday predictable. There was rebellion against God. There was death. The events of Easter Sunday were not as predictable. The stone was rolled away, Jesus was not in the tomb, he had risen! This is the greatest disruption to the status quo there has ever been in the history of the world. There is a new normal, a new way of life, a new expectation of life.

It is brilliant!

You are invited to step into it.


Watch message in context of the entire online worship expression (26 minutes) from Clarke Dixon’s church in Ontario, Canada or watch just the sermon (15 minutes).

April 4, 2021

Easter and What Follows

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God

-Hebrews 10:11-12


The focus on Easter in many of our churches is on the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the women in the garden, and to the the twelve (now eleven) disciples. But there is much more that took place when he had left Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. This appeared at the website Evidences for Christianity:


The cross not only atones for sin but takes away pain and sickness, guilt, worry, despair. Two days ago the words of an old gospel song came to mind. I listened to a dozen versions of it online, but couldn’t find that “just right” one to share here, so I’ll present the lyrics instead. The song is titled Burdens are Lifted at Calvary by John Moore.

Days are filled with sorrow and care,
Hearts are lonely and drear.
Burdens are lifted at Calvary,
Jesus is very near.

Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Calvary, Calvary;
Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near.

Cast your care on Jesus today,
Leave your worry and fear.
Burdens are lifted at Calvary,
Jesus is very near.

Troubled soul, the Savior can feel
Every heartache and tear.
Burdens are lifted at Calvary,
Jesus is very near.


What do we do, today, in 2021, moving past the celebrating and back into everyday life; especially at a time when it’s hard to feel the triumph of resurrection when our world still faces so much pandemic uncertainty?

One of the most powerful sermons I heard at this time of year was preached by a man who grew up in Montreal, Canada. He talked about his earliest experiences learning to drive when he got his license at age 16, and how he sometimes found himself driving on the expressways feeling disoriented in terms of his destination.

The Montreal skyline is dominated by Mount Royal, atop which sits a Roman Catholic shrine with a very large cross. It’s not surprising that locals use it as a reference point, probably both subconsciously and deliberately as well. He said that if he felt lost, he would “look to the cross” at it showed him (a) where he had been, (b) where he was, and (c) where he needed to be.

The same is true for us. The cross of Christ shows us what we’ve come from, where we stand in relation to it, and what we need to do moving forward.  It becomes our anchor, our focal point, our point of reference, our standard.

To that end, Doug Van Meter, a Baptist pastor in Zambia writes,

…the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ should cast a very long shadow over our lives. How much does the cross of Jesus Christ affect your life? Is it constantly in the forefront? Does it influence the way you live—how you treat one another, how your spend your time, how you apply yourself in the workplace, how you pursue your career, how you spend your money, and how you treat your fellow church member? The cross of Christ is to dominate every area of our lives. In the words of Paul, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2), and, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). The Christian, in other words, is called to live a cross-centered life.


Again, what do we do, today, in 2021, moving past Easter weekend toward what the church calendar calls “regular time?” This was offered as a prayer at one of the churches I watched on the weekend:

We adore you,
Jesus,
Messiah,
and we praise you.

By your cross you have redeemed the world.

King Jesus, we pray…
keep our spirits willing,
and strengthen us
when our flesh is weak.

King Jesus, we pray…
to always confess you alone
as Christ our Lord,
Son of Man,
and Son of God

King Jesus, we pray…
that we will remember
the words you have spoken,
repent of our sins,
and cling to you.

King Jesus, we pray…
rule in our hearts,
as our good and gracious king
and we will declare that we have
no king but you.

King Jesus, we pray…
help us bear our crosses,
for you bore the heaviest cross for us.

King Jesus, we pray…
that even now you will dry our tears,
until that day to come when you will
wipe away every tear from our eyes.

King Jesus, we pray…
enable and empower us
to forgive and pray blessings
on those who have sinned against us,
because you have freely forgiven us.

King Jesus, we praise you…
for by your innocent suffering and death,
you have opened up
the way to the Father for us.

King Jesus, we pray…
raise us up on the last day,
that we may follow you
from death to life.

You live and reign now and forever,

Amen

April 1, 2021

The Sin of Power: The Deadliest of the 7 Deadly Sins

by Clarke Dixon

Of all the 7 deadly sins, the sin of power must be the worst. It has brought greater destruction into our world than the other seven which are listed as pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. Wait, the sin of power is not one of the 7 deadly sins?! People with power must have came up with the list. That is one of the problems; people in power don’t see the sin in their power.

We often talk about the power of sin, today we are thinking about the sin of power.

In the events of Holy Week, between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, between the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and his crucifixion, we see the sin of power.

In the background there is a constant power struggle between Rome and the Judeans. When Jesus comes along, all the powers-that-be gang up against Jesus.

It begins with the religious leaders who want to overpower Jesus. All along they have been speaking against Jesus, trying to keep the people from following him. Jesus teaches with authority, much better than they do. Jesus does really good, helpful things, like heal people. They don’t seem to be as helpful.

Already you can imagine the jealousy. Jesus is a carpenter, what does he know compared to the educated religious elites? According to his teaching, quite a lot!

Worse, Jesus doesn’t obey the religious leaders. They say “no healing on a Sabbath.” Jesus heals on a Sabbath, and not just once.

Worst of all, Jesus goes around claiming to do what only God can do; forgive people. Who does he think he is?

This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we become blinded to God. The religious leaders could not see in Jesus what many people were seeing in Jesus, namely; God is with us, or at least with Jesus, in some remarkable way.

It gets worse. As a power play to get Pilate to do their bidding, the religious leaders claim their greatest allegiance:

They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”

John 19:15 (NRSV)

This is the lowest point a leader of God’s people could sink to, shouting “we have no king but Caesar.” What happened to God’s promise of a king? What happened to the Scriptural witness that God was the true king?

That is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we forget God.

We may wonder, how can a Christian ever become abusive? The people of God can become abusive because power blinds us to God and makes us forget Him.

If it begins with the religious leaders, the sin of power continues with Pilate:

He took Jesus back into the headquarters again and asked him, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave no answer. “Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

John 19:9-10 (NLT)

Pilate is claiming to have significant power over Jesus here, the power of life and death. Jesus sets the record straight:

Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.

John 19:11 (NLT)

This is what happens when we commit the sin of power, we overstep our God-given authority. When we overstep our God given authority we move from taking responsibility for people, to becoming abusive against them. Authority can be a beautiful, life-giving thing. It can also get ugly.

In the game of chess between the Romans and the Jews, the King becomes a pawn:

The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face.

Pilate went outside again and said to the people, “I am going to bring him out to you now, but understand clearly that I find him not guilty.” Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said, “Look, here is the man!”

John 19:2-5 (NLT)

We easily get the idea that the Romans are mocking Jesus here with the crown of thorns, the purple robe, and the mock worship. What we can easily miss is how they are also mocking the Jewish people. In mocking Jesus as a most pathetic king, they are really mocking the Jewish people as a most pathetic nation. This continues through to the crucifixion with Pilate posting the charge against Jesus “the king of the Jews.” That was a slam against the Jews and the religious leaders knew it, and hated it.

This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we belittle others. We mock them, we find ways of making them appear pathetic, of making ourselves look superior. We win. Of course we win, for they are losers. The sin of power puts us in that mindset, it clouds our perception of others.

Perhaps the most powerful of all are the soldiers who pull the trigger, or in this case, hammer the nails. They are the ones trained in the art of enforcing power.

They would not have carried through with their grim sin of power if it had not all begun in the minds of the Jewish religious leaders. If the religious leaders wanted to keep their power, they had better deal with their Jesus problem. The religious leaders would not have been able to carry out their sin of power without Pilate. If Pilate wanted to keep his power, he had better deal with this Jesus problem who had now become his problem. Then the soldiers carried out the sin of power when they hammered in the nails and raised the cross. If the soldiers wanted to keep their privileged positions of power, they had better deal with this Jesus problem who had now become their problem.

This is what happens to us when we commit the sin of power, we become complicit in killing.

When we commit the sin of power, we become complicit in the killing of people’s dignity, freedom, innocence, dreams, aspirations, mental health, and faith. Sometimes it really does become deadly.

Jesus, in entering Jerusalem on a donkey the way he did, enters Jerusalem in a way that says “I am the rightful king here. I am the one in charge.” Publicly he has been quiet about his all along. Evil demons who knew his identity better than anyone were told to keep quiet. When Peter expressed that Jesus is the Messiah, the disciples were told to be quiet. Little wonder, when Jesus is public about his identity as the Messiah, as the rightful king, he is killed in less than a week.

Yet here he is, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus is a different kind of king of a different kind of kingdom. And being the rightful king he took his place, not on a throne, but on a cross.

The religious leaders together with the Roman leaders committed the sin of power. Jesus was different, he broke the power of sin. 

Jesus could have overpowered all who opposed him. As a famous song points out, he could have called 10,000 angels, not just to rescue him, but to destroy his enemies.

Instead he took the nails.

Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Luke 23:34 (KJV)

Instead of destroying his enemies, Jesus loved them, giving them the opportunity to be reconciled. Are we learning to love our enemies the way Jesus loved his? Are we learning to love our enemies the way Jesus loves us?

Are we stuck in our all-too-human ways of committing the sin of power against others, or has the power of sin been undone by the power of God’s love?

Perhaps we might even be committing the deadliest of the deadly sins by trying to rid ourselves of God. That is a sin of power. A desire to rid ourselves of God leads to separation from God, now and especially into eternity. That is the power of sin. But we can be forgiven through Jesus, reconciled to God. We can go from enemy to family. That is the power of God’s love.


The full sermon can be watched on its own or as part of this “online worship expression Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.


Today Christianity 201 begins year twelve! Thank you for joining us each day.

March 30, 2021

Jonah’s First Converts and Easter Atonement

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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In the very popular children’s resource, The Jesus Storybook Bible author Sally Lloyd-Jones illustrates that many of the best-known narratives from the Hebrew Bible are foreshadowing the coming of a Savior. Not surprisingly, the book is subtitled, “Every Story Whispers His Name.”

This is true even more so for the book of Jonah, as Jesus himself make a direct connection between the prophet’s three days in the air chamber of a great fish, and his own three days in the tomb before resurrection.

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
– Matthew 12:40 (all scriptures NIV except as noted)

Who were Jonah’s first converts? We don’t know anything about their spiritual history from the text in Jonah chapter one, but we know that after Jonah is tossed overboard,

At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (v16)

In other words, Jonah’s first decisive act on the way to Nineveh (or technically, at this stage, on the way to avoid Nineveh) ends in the ship’s crew making an offering and prayers.  (Sidebar: As with much of the Old Testament, we see a collective spiritual response on behalf of the crew as a whole, there isn’t the emphasis on personal response that we have today, though it can certainly be inferred.)

To repeat, the first revival meeting Jonah sets in motion is in the hearts of the crew, a long time before reaching his originally requested destination.

A few other things are worth noting here.

First, the responsibility for the situation is placed on Jonah, just as the weight or burden of our sin is placed on Jesus.

The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (v11-12)

The Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 53:6 reads,

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Peter directly refers to this passage in 1 Peter 2:24,

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed

The men in Jonah’s story resist the prophet’s suggested solution to their dilemma. They don’t want to be responsible for taking a life. In the same way, Peter — yes, the same Peter who we just quoted — seeks an alternative solution.

Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:21-22)

and again we read that at the moment of Jesus being arrested,

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (John 18:10)

Jonah’s nautical crew are filled with remorse at the necessary action they take:

Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”

In the Jesus narrative, Pilate sees the innocence of Jesus and wants no part in his death,

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” (Matthew 27:24)

The Roman Centurion acknowledges who Jesus really is,

The Roman officer and the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 NLT)

The Jonah narrative continues,

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.

The idea of throwing Jonah overboard was Jonah’s idea.

Similarly, the idea of Jesus giving his life was the plan all along.

And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.” (Luke 24:46 NLT)

(Bible scholars tell us that the beginning of God’s redemptive plan can be traced all the way back to Genesis 3.)

Jesus offers up his life willingly, just as Jonah offered himself up as a sacrifice so the men on the ship could be saved.

There are probably many other parallels I missed. I didn’t consult commentaries for this one, but simply responded to the text as I was reading. Clearly God is preparing the hearts of the people living under the first covenant for what will occur in the new covenant…

…So who were Jonah’s next converts? You might say the next great spiritual awakening happens in the heart of Jonah himself, but for that, you’ll have to read chapter two.

 

 

 

March 28, 2021

A Week To Encounter and Respond to Christ

John 14 (The Voice)

Philip: 8 Lord, all I am asking is that You show us the Father.

Jesus (to Philip): 9 I have lived with you all this time, and you still don’t know who I am? If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. How can you keep asking to see the Father? 10 Don’t you believe Me when I say I abide in the Father and the Father dwells in Me? I’m not making this up as I go along. The Father has given Me these truths that I have been speaking to you, and He empowers all My actions. 11 Accept these truths: I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me. If you have trouble believing based on My words, believe because of the things I have done. 12 I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father. 13 Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do it so that the Father will get glory from the Son.

Jesus is telling his disciples that if they can’t trust his words, they can at least see that his actions back up what he is saying. And then he goes one step further, and tells them that if they believe they will be able to do even greater things. While that’s a treasured promise from the text, it also simultaneously suggests that some of his disciples were still not committed 100%; something that would change after the resurrection…

Everyone we meet, and we ourselves, needs to respond to the story that crosses our path this week: The Passion Week narrative. The song featured below asks the question — and it’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve come across — how do we respond to Christ incarnate? Will we recognize him as the Messiah? Will we make him Lord of our lives?

Jesus asked them this question as well.

As the Pharisees were regrouping, Jesus caught them off balance with his own test question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said, “David’s son.” – Matthew 22:42 MSG

Before moving out of Toronto, we lived near a church which had this question on a neon sign, which read, using the KJV text, “What think ye of Christ?” It is after all the make-or-break question; how we respond to Jesus. I devoted entire blog post that sign’s question here in 2017

As any worship leader will tell you, Easter offers us music which best captures the essence of our faith; best captures the essence of the gospel. All worship should be ‘Christo-centric,’ but at this time of year the intensity of our worship seems so much better focused.

This is not a congregational song, but a performance piece called “How Could You Say ‘No?'” written by Mickey Cates and performed by Julie Miller. When my wife had a soundtrack for this, we were repeatedly asked to do it each year at the church we were attending; later on we did it with live music. There’s something about it that touches people at a heart level.

christoncross

The song asks the question: How can you see what Christ did for us on the cross and then just walk away, knowing it was your sin that put him there; knowing that he did this for you?

Take the next four minutes just to focus on this song and all that it means.

Thorns on His head, spear in His side
Yet it was a heartache that made Him cry
He gave His life so you would understand
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

If Christ Himself were standing here
Face full of glory and eyes full tears
And he held out His arms and His nail-printed hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Jesus is here with His arms open wide
You can see with your heart
If you’ll stop looking with your eyes
He’s left it up to you, He’s done all He can
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Thorns on His head, your life is in His hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

Oh, is there any way you could say no to this Man?

April 12, 2020

Jesus Reveals Himself: To Mary in the Garden, To the Disciples on the Emmaus Road

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.
– Hebrews 1:1-3 NLT


Many of you have been to church several times today in the form of virtual church, or as my oldest son termed it, “virch.” The realities of the pandemic lockdown have allowed us to visit churches both locally and around the world, many of which don’t normally broadcast or stream their services. If you know of an author who is also a pastor, track down that church’s service or sermon for today. If there’s a church you attended many years ago, take a few minutes to revisit as they probably have some posted content…

…Today we have two things to share with you.


The first is a very detailed retelling of Jesus revealing himself to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. The writer is Bethany Pasma. It’s longer than what we normally run here, so I’m sharing it in the form of a link. Click here to get inside the story. Please don’t miss this.


The second concerns Jesus revealing himself first to Mary at the garden tomb. This is a video link. The speaker is Ruth Wilkinson, whose writing you’ve seen here many times, but this is your first time meeting her in person. It runs 8½ minutes. She tells the story in scripture and in music.


Last year at this time we also touched on the various post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. If you wish to review, you can find that article at this link.


From Romans 6, NIV:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

April 11, 2020

Approaching Easter Sunday: What the Lord Has Done for Us

by Richard Schmelzle*

As we approach Easter Sunday, we must each examine our life in light of what our Saviour has done for us.  Does my relationship with Him and with others reflect the mindset of our Lord as He approached the cross? 

Paul writing to the believers in Philippi said:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”  (Phil. 2:5-8  NKJV)

Christ’s entire life was marked by obedience and surrender to the will of the Father.  As followers of Christ, are we not called to do the same?  We talk about the surrendered life, we read books and have Bible studies on the subject.  I cannot sing the chorus “I Surrender All” without tears streaming down my face.  The question remains, have I surrendered all?

Oswald J. Smith gives us some clues as to why this is so difficult.  He often said, “When we are saved, we are delivered from the penalty of sin;  As we are sanctified, we are delivered from the power of sin, however, only when we are glorified are we delivered from the presence of sin. 

His friend, Dr. J. Edwin Orr, the Irish Revivalist, was a frequent guest at The Peoples Church, Toronto. In the opening page of his book, Full Surrender, he suggests one of the reasons why we find this so difficult.

“Why is it that hundreds of well-meaning Christians attend conventions and conferences for the deepening of the spiritual life, enjoy the ministry there given, return to life’s vocations with a feeling of improvement, yet speedily lapse into their former ways of backsliding and defeat?  There are many reasons, but one of the least noted is the matter of incomplete consecration, the sin of broken vows.  Too many Christians make a bargain with God and fail to pay their part of the price.  This is sin.” 

The Apostle Paul gave us these words of encouragement and direction:

“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Romans 6:16-18 NKJV).

C.S. Lewis addresses the subject in his classic work, “Mere Christianity”. 

“Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time, and so much of your money and so much of your work. I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself, My own will shall become yours.

The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self – all your wishes, and precautions – to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is to remain what we call ‘ourselves’, to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be ‘good’. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way – centered on money or pleasure or ambition – and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And this is exactly what Christ warned us you could not do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs. 

As our will becomes God’s will, we become like God. That’s the whole point of Christianity. Yet the whole notion of surrendering our autonomy and will to anyone or anything is abhorrent by today’s standards. Any religion that suggests we do so is coloured in the most extreme shades of radicalism by contemporary thinkers. Yet this is precisely what Jesus Christ taught we must do.”

“And He said to them all, if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23, 24 NKJV)

Surrendering our will to God is the polar opposite of entrusting ourselves to ‘the crowd’.  On the one hand we are loved “with an everlasting love” and on the other we are just another nameless face. The great challenge for us is finding the confidence within to entrust our will to Him.

To be sure, my Brother, my Sister, the Christian life is totally antithetical to the world view of our culture and counter intuitive to our embedded `natural man`.  Scripture tells us further:

“The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NKJV)

The writer to the Hebrews gives the final word on how to overcome our dilemma:

“Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin”. (Hebrews 3:1, 13 NKJV) 

Let us proclaim together, Christ is Risen….He is Risen Indeed!


* Dr. Richard Schmelzle heads the Toronto Chapter of the C. S. Lewis Institute which meets regularly in Richmond Hill. For general information about the organization, go to cslewisinstitute.org .  Used by permission.

May 2, 2019

Compelling Events

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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A Compelling Turn of Events: How the Events of Easter Point to the Reality of God

by Clarke Dixon

I Cor.15.1  Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Can we really believe that Jesus rose from the dead? If someone told you they had a friend who spontaneously rose from the dead three days later, would you believe them? Probably not, and that is good, for doubt and skepticism are important tools in helping us avoid deception and discover truth. So if we would not believe a report about a friend being raised in three days, then why believe it with regards to Jesus?

First off, let us remember the nature of the Bible. It does not present a simple system of belief, or a series of philosophical ideas, but instead a series of sometimes convoluted history lessons. For the person of faith it is the history of God’s interactions with humanity. For the unbeliever, the history lessons are still important. For example, when we look to the Old Testament, even a very skeptical person will want to consider what happened that caused the Israelites to think they were rescued from Egypt, and to think they had a special covenant relationship with God. Likewise in the New Testament, even a very skeptical person will want to consider what happened that;

  1. caused the body of Jesus to not be in the tomb in which he was laid, nor ever be produced.
  2. caused many people to go around saying that they saw Jesus risen from the dead and be willing to die for that testimony.
  3. caused naysayers like James, and especially Paul, to change their tune despite a very devout devotion to Judaism. Paul went from persecuting Christians for their supposed blasphemy to being one. Why?
  4. caused theology to develop within the New Testament which has some surprising and unexpected twists. It was expected that God would rescue His people. It was expected that God would send a messiah. It was expected that there would be a resurrection of all people at the end of the age. It was not expected that God would rescue people through being the suffering messiah who would be executed then rise from the dead, quite apart from a resurrection of everyone else.

What happened to cause these things?

Were the disciples hallucinating? Were the disciples so distraught that they all just thought they saw Jesus? The possibility of mass hallucinations is fraught with problems from the get-go, however the hallucinations theory does not explain the new boldness of the disciples, the empty tomb, the turnarounds in Paul and James, nor the surprising new twists in theology.

Did the disciples steal the body of Jesus then make up the story of the resurrection? This would explain the empty tomb, but would not explain why the disciples were not only willing to die for their testimony, but able. No one broke down and shared a different story! It also does not explain the change in Paul or James. Nor is it likely they would have made up a story and developed a theology which ensured persecution from both Jewish and Roman antagonists alike.

Perhaps Jesus did not really die? However, the Romans were recognized as being very capable at putting people to death! But why the change in Paul and James, neither of whom were disciples before the events of Easter? A battered and bruised Jesus would hardly be convincing. Why the interesting and unusual new twists in theological reflection?

If you are open to a miracle at all, an actual resurrection of Jesus is the simplest explanation that accounts for all the evidence. The resurrection explains everything; why the tomb was empty and a body was never produced, why the disciples were willing to die for their testimony of seeing Jesus alive and boldly all stuck to the story, why skeptics like James and Paul change their tune, and why theology developed in an unexpected way.

If you are open to a miracle. Therein lies the problem for many people. However, we have already looked at compelling reasons to believe in a miracle working God, a creator God. The cosmos points to the reality of God. Our minds point to the reality of God, as does the existence of evil, the fact of morality, and the existence and nature of the Bible. We can be reasonable people, and be open to the miraculous. If you are open to a miracle at all, the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of all the facts.

Consider also, that the resurrection of Jesus was not a random occurrence that came out of the blue. Rather this is an event in history which fits the compelling nature of Jesus. What he did, what he taught, how he related to people, it was all extraordinary. His resurrection may still be surprising, but it makes sense given how extraordinary Jesus was known to be. The resurrection is also an event in history which perfectly fits what the Old Testament was pointing to all along. The death and resurrection of Jesus confirms what we should expect to be true about God, that God is perfect in justice and in love. While a story of spontaneous resurrection would normally be considered nonsense, the resurrection of Jesus happens in a context in which it makes sense.

In considering the context of the resurrection of Jesus, we can also consider the purpose. If Jesus rose from the dead, we look forward to resurrection to eternal life also. This too, is compelling, for why bother with a random resurrection that has no purpose? The resurrection of Jesus is not some random event but one which fits a context, fulfills a purpose, and best explains the evidence.

Last, but not least, the resurrection of Jesus makes sense of the experience many of us have of Christ making a difference in our lives!

Can we, as intelligent, thinking people, really believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Yes, not only can we, there are compelling reasons to do so. The events of Easter point to the reality of the God we discover in the Bible.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

April 22, 2019

Hope Through the Resurrection of Christ

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Russell Young

The hope of all who will dwell eternally with the Lord is accomplished through his death and resurrection. Peter has written, “Praise be to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade.” (1 Pet 1:3) The word “through” is “a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) That is, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the channel that gives new hope into an eternal inheritance; his resurrection does not accomplish the inheritance but gives hope for it. This makes sense when considering other texts.

Before his crucifixion the Lord said, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (Jn 16:7) The Lord had to be resurrected to send the Counsellor or Spirit and it is the Spirit who gives life. (Jn 6:63) The resurrection of Christ is “the channel” through which God’s gift, the Spirit, is given. Paul taught now that “we have been released from the bondage of the law we serve in (are in bondage to or are a slave to) the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Rom 7:6) It should not be mistaken! Having been released from the law the confessor is now in bondage to the Spirit who was given through the resurrection of Christ.

The New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:6) and the hope of every confessor rests in his or her commitment to keeping it. Peter wrote of the need to be on guard against the “error of lawless men.” (2 Pet 3:17) Lawless men teach the absence of law; however, the law of the New Covenant is the Law of the Spirit of life (Rom 8:2) or the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21). This is important! The confessor’s living hope comes through the resurrection of Christ and his provision of the Spirit so that his law might be honored.

Some understand that the believer’s eternal hope is accomplished through being raised with Christ– that those who confess belief have been raised with him and remain with him. Paul wrote, “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set you hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” (Col 3:1) “Raised” means “roused or revived in resemblance” to Christ. (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) With the cleansing provided by Christ’s blood offering the confessor has been freed of sins (“past” Heb 9:15) and resembles Christ in purity. The confessor is not raised and seated with Christ but has been made pure. He or she has been given a “living hope” so that as Paul says, “we may live a new life.” (Rom 6:4).

Paul has addressed the security that comes from being “in” Christ. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1) This thought should provide comfort and induce commitment. It is the dead in Christ who will be raised first at his return. (1 Thess 4:16) The problem is that not all confessors (possessors of the Spirit) will not remain in Christ. The Lord warned that those who do not produce fruit would be cut out of him. (Jn 15:2) John wrote, But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 Jn 2:5−6 Italics added)

Even Paul declared his lack of certainty about being resurrected (Phil 3:11−12) and that he wanted to become more like Christ in his death (to sin); he still had more living to do which would bring more opportunity to sin and continued need to overcome. A person’s resurrection to life or damnation will be based on his or her “doing” while in his or her body. (Jn 5:29)

Easter Sunday commemorated the resurrection of Christ and it is through him that the Spirit is given that we, too, might have a living hope through the defeat of sin by the power of the Spirit. The resurrection of Christ is the channel of the believer’s hope. “Christ in you, [your] hope of glory” (Col 1:27) and Christ is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:17, 18) Believers must continue to use all that has been provided to “work out (complete, finish) their salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12) Without the resurrection of Christ there would be no Spirit, and without the Spirit their would be no life and no hope.



Russell Young’s column appears here on alternate Tuesdays. His book, Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” Really? is available in print and eBook in the U.S. through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link. There is also an extended article at this link.

 

April 20, 2019

Holy Saturday: There Has Never Been Such a Silence as This

This day.

This day that is not Good Friday, not Easter Sunday.

In many respects, the Roman Catholic Church somewhat owns today in the sense that some of our best available commentary and liturgy is from Catholic sources. Today’s words are recent writings from a variety of Catholic and Evangelical sources.

From writer Hayden Royster:

Today, in many liturgical churches, there’s no service or liturgy on Saturday; instead, they’ll wait until evening to celebrate the Easter Vigil Mass. These vigils begin the lights extinguished, the holy water drained and the tabernacle empty. Some traditions will actually perform a funeral service using the​ E​pitaphios,​ ​an embroidered cloth that depicts a buried Christ​. In Mexico, Brazil and other Latin American countries, sorrow takes a more explosive form: people will purchase large, ugly effigies of Judas Iscariot (Jesus’ betrayer), string them up on lamposts, attach firecrackers to them and light ‘em up…

Holy Saturday is also, traditionally, a day of triumph. According to the Nicene Creed, Saturday is the day of the Harrowing of Hell, that spectacular event wherein Jesus descended into Hades, gathered all of the righteous people, and “opened Heaven’s gates for those that have gone before him,” in the words of the Catholic Catechism.

Now, not every Christian tradition holds to this piece of the Easter story; admittedly, the scriptural evidence for it is pretty sparse. But even those who don’t believe in the Harrowing still view Holy Saturday as a day of great expectation…

From John 19, NIV:

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.[e] 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

From the Video Channel of Fr. William Nicholas:

How do we understand and observe the Day before Easter, between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection? Father Bill discusses a useful outlook and ways to remember and observe the “time in between” before launching into the 50 Days of Easter.

From the website All About Jesus Christ:

Jesus’ Tomb – The Stone

The stone at Jesus’ tomb serves as a reminder of other elements of Christ’s life. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus is asked to turn a stone into bread (Matthew 4:3). Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35) as well as the living Stone (1 Peter 2:4, NIV). In Mark 12:10, Jesus refers to Himself as the stone that the builders rejected, which becomes a capstone. If necessary, stones would cry out, proclaiming Jesus the King of Kings (Luke 19:40). Jesus appeared before Pilate, who sat upon the judgment seat, the Stone Pavement (John 19:13). It is not surprising, therefore, that a stone should serve as a phenomenal part of Jesus’ tomb. Upon Jesus’ death, the earth convulsed violently — rocks split, tombs opened, and bodies were raised from the dead (Matthew 27:50-54). This was certainly a prelude of things to come.

To assure that Jesus’ tomb . . . and its contents . . . remained undisturbed, Pilate ordered a large stone positioned against the entrance. A sloped channel assisted the guards in rolling the boulder. A deep groove cut in bedrock at the tomb’s entrance firmly settled the stone. At the urging of the chief priests, Pilate further secured the Jesus’ tomb by placing a Roman seal on the stone, stationing four Roman soldiers at the entrance. To guarantee maximum security, every three hours fresh, alert (i.e. not sleeping as indicated in Matthew 28:13) guards would be exchanged.

From Romans 6, NIV:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

From another Roman Catholic website, Aleteia:

…For many centuries there was even a strict fast on Holy Saturday, permitting no food to be eaten in observance of this painful day. Many would stay in the church throughout the night of Good Friday, keeping Jesus company in the tomb.

A homily from the 2nd century confirms this general atmosphere in the church, “What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.”

One of the reasons for this “great silence” is to enter into the pain of Jesus’ death and the loss the apostles must have felt. Think about it for a minute.

While Jesus taught them continually about his resurrection, the apostles likely had some doubts, seeing the death of their master. They might have thought to themselves, “If he is the Messiah, why did he die? I thought he said he would rise from the dead?” In this way Holy Saturday is that day of doubt and sorrow, not knowing what to do or what to believe.

Even the Easter Vigil begins in silence, in the complete darkness of the church.

However, the good news is that Jesus, the light of the world, has truly risen and dispels the darkness and any doubts we may have had. The church erupts in pure joy at the Easter Vigil and music, bells and light lift up our hearts to God.

Only after experiencing the silence of Holy Saturday can we truly appreciate the loud and joyful celebrations of the Easter Vigil…

This day.

This day that is not Good Friday, not Easter Sunday.

But something is about the take place.

Something is about to happen which will change the course of history.

April 19, 2019

Final Words to Friends

An excerpt from Peter Marshall –The First Easter (McGraw-Hill, 1959) pp. 16-19

The eleven men who were left were very quiet. The voice of Christ was very soft and low — tender with farewell.

It was now only a matter of hours until Christ and his disciples would be separated. He wished to fill those last hours of fellowship with the tenderest and most significant of His teachings.

The most sacred… the most tender… the most heart-felt emotions… are those expressed at the end of the letter…

The tenderest caress comes just before the parting. The softest word just before the conversation is ended… before the train pulls out… before we turn away.

We seem to catch the quiet intimacy of that fellowship. Unforgettable words of parting and comfort were spoken by Jesus to His friends. Jesus has written them out for us:

  • “Little children … a new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you … By this will all know that you are my disciples…”
  • “Let not your heart be troubled; … In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you…”
  • “I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you…”
  • “I am the vine, you are the branches… Abide in me, and I in you…”
  • “these things I have spoken unto you that in me you might have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world…”

Overcome the world? When the one who spoke was so soon to fall under the power of Caesar? Yes, for in reality we must remember that Jesus could have escaped the cross. No one compelled him to go to Jerusalem on that last journey. Indeed His friends and apostles urged Him not to go.

Watch Him, in the bitter hours that lie immediately ahead, time after time taking the initiative in deciding His own fate.

Christ had begun His ministry by telling His apostles that the Son of many must suffer many things. Must — there was no other way. It was for that purpose that He had come into the world.

“For as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up .. that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

There was Light in the little room that night. But beyond the light lay a death-ridden world…

  • in the midst of the military might that was Rome where life was cheap
  • in the philosopher’s porticoes of Athens where the mind found no hope
  • in the dangerous living of the great shipping centers of Asia Minor to the disease infested alleys of old Jerusalem —

Men feared death, dodged its hideous grasp, could nowhere find respite from their fear.

But here was something new… Here was one facing death — not afraid but confident … already triumphant … already speaking about seeing His friends again … about never leaving them…

Strange words … about being with them to the uttermost parts of the earth and to the end of time.

How? Why? Because He alone knew the Father’s eternal purpose for what it was — the determination once and for all to destroy the power of death — once and for all to deliver men from their lifelong bondage to the fear of death.

Within a matter of hours, Christ Himself was to become the instrument by which the Father would — for all time — make death not a wall … but a door.

March 30, 2016

How Easter Explodes a Religious Myth

•••by Clarke Dixon

Christianity, and religion itself, is often seen to be something helpful. So, for example, it can provide a crutch for those moments you may feel weak. It can provide a belief system for those moments that you need to know there is more to life than what you can see. It can be something you pay attention to for a few moments in a day for the sake of your spiritual health, kind of like an exercise program for your soul. It can provide a good dose of morality for your day.

All these things are helpful, but they all have something in common: they relegate Christianity to the sidelines of your life. They make Christianity something that you can put on the back burner until the time comes you might have need of it. Worse, they turn Christianity into something optional, so that if your spiritual and religious needs are met some other way, then okay, leave church attendance and Jesus following for those who are into that kind of thing. Easter Sunday explodes the myth that Christianity is a religion that can exist on the sidelines of our lives. How so?

It is often claimed that the early Christians invented a religion that had not too much to do with the actual historical Jesus. However, in our recent sermon series we have been looking at how the writers of the four Gospels were either eyewitnesses themselves (Matthew, John) or were very intimately connected with eyewitnesses of the events and key Person they describe (Mark, Luke). Additionally the Gospels were written not long after the events described, indeed early enough that what was written could be checked against what eyewitnesses were saying. Now let us venture beyond the Gospels to consider something that was written even earlier by Paul. In fact many Biblical scholars conclude that Paul was quoting an oral tradition that went back even earlier, possibly a baptismal affirmation. I have highlighted the possible “confessional”:

Now I should remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain. 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1st Corinthians 15:2-8 emphasis mine)

The earliest traditions about Jesus were not about his being a good teacher, with later traditions adding in the supernatural bits. The earliest traditions point to the supernatural, in fact they speak of the resurrection of Jesus. As Paul points out to the Christians he is writing to in Corinth, most of those who had seen Jesus following his death and resurrection were still alive – so you can still check the story out with them.

It is fascinating also, that Paul does not mention that Jesus first revealed Himself to the women by the empty tomb. The fact that women were the first eyewitnesses is somewhat embarrassing to the still very patriarchal society of that day. In that time and place if you wanted to invent a religion based on a fabricated resurrection, you would not call upon women to be the first witnesses. Nor would you call upon Mark and Luke to write Gospels. These things speak to the genuine nature of the eyewitness testimony.

These eyewitnesses of the Risen Jesus were not going about trying to start a new religion. They were going about telling everyone about all they had seen. They were not fabricating Jesus, they were responding to Him. They responded with repentance. They responded with prayer and lots of it. They responded with reading the scriptures they had at that time, what we call the Old Testament, with their eyes open to seeing Jesus in them. They responded with sharing the Good News of all that had happened and with all that God was doing and had promised to yet do. Christianity from the get go was not a new religion, but a response to the Person of Jesus the Messiah. It was not a thing to practice, but a Person to know. The earliest Christians were not aware of “taking up religion,” but they were very aware of taking up a cross to follow Jesus. They responded to the evidence of God’s love with love. Christianity was not something “helpful” for them, it was something real and true.

On Easter Sunday we celebrated a baptism in our church. In Baptist circles, baptism is a profession of faith. In baptism one is not saying “I am taking up religion,” or “I am joining this church or that denomination.” Neither is one saying “I am perfect.” Baptism shows the desire, not to take up religion, but to take up a cross and follow Jesus who died and rose again in a very real display of God’s love.

Religion is something that can be put on the back burner. Perhaps many should be taking their religion off the back burner and putting it where I put all the meals I have burned over the years, the garbage bin. Jesus is someOne who died and rose again. He cannot be sidelined. He belongs neither on the back burner nor in the bin. Jesus belongs at the center of our lives. Easter Sunday confirms that fact. And as the early Christians showed by moving their worship from the Sabbath, Saturday, to the day Jesus rose from the dead, every Sunday is Easter Sunday.


Read more from Clarke at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

March 26, 2016

Jesus Aims Directly Toward Jerusalem

When the time was come that he should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.
~Luke 9:51

Matthew Henry writes:

1. There was a time fixed for the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus, and he knew well enough when it was, and had a clear and certain foresight of it, and yet was so far from keeping out of the way that then he appeared most publicly of all, and was most busy, knowing that his time was short.

2. When he saw his death and sufferings approaching, he looked through them and beyond them, to the glory that should follow; he looked upon it as the time when he should be received upinto glory (1 Tim. 3:16), received up into the highest heavens, to be enthroned there. Moses and Elias spoke of his death as his departure out of this world, which made it not formidable; but he went further, and looked upon it as his translation to a better world, which made it very desirable. All good Christians may frame to themselves the same notion of death, and may call it their being received up, to be with Christ where he is; and, when the time of their being received up is at hand, let them lift up their heads, knowing that their redemption draws nigh.

3. On this prospect of the joy set before him, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem the place where he was to suffer and die. He was fully determined to go, and would not be dissuaded; he went directly to Jerusalem, because there now his business lay, and he did not go about to other towns, or fetch a compass, which if he had done, as commonly he did, he might have avoided going through Samaria. He went cheerfully and courageously there, though he knew the things that should happen to him there. He did not fail nor was discouraged, but set his face as a flint, knowing that he should be not only justified, but glorified (Isa. 50:7), not only not run down, but received up. How should this shame us for, and shame us out of, our backwardness to do and suffer for Christ! We draw back, and turn our faces another way from his service who steadfastly set his face against all opposition, to go through with the work of our salvation.

This reminded me of another passage:

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
~Hebrews 12:2

Again, Matthew Henry writes:

What it was that supported the human soul of Christ under these unparalleled sufferings; and that was the joy that was set before him. He had something in view under all his sufferings, which was pleasant to him; he rejoiced to see that by his sufferings he should make satisfaction to the injured justice of God and give security to his honor and government, that he should make peace between God and man, that he should seal the covenant of grace and be the Mediator of it, that he should open a way of salvation to the chief of sinners, and that he should effectually save all those whom the Father had given him, and himself be the first-born among many brethren. This was the joy that was set before him.

While there are so many theological depths in this idea of Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem, I have often found on a very practical level that this concept — and that exact phrase — has helped me when I must face an unpleasant situation.


If you’d like to go deeper today, there is much exposition and application in this 1985 article by Ray Stedman; check out He Endured The Cross.


 

 

April 2, 2015

He Learned Obedience

NLT Hebrews 5:7 While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the one who could rescue him from death. And God heard his prayers because of his deep reverence for God. Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered. In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him. 10 And God designated him to be a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Matthew Henry on verses 7-9 (my wife and I have paraphrased in places):

The Carrying Out of His Priestly Duties

(1.) He put on flesh, and for some days lived among us [tabernacled]; he became a mortal man, and considered his life by days [forcing himself into our chronos (time)] herein setting us an example how we should consider our days…

(2.) Christ, in the days of his flesh, subjected himself to death; he hungered, he was a tempted, bleeding, dying Jesus! He body is now in heaven, but it is a spiritual glorious body.

(3.) God the Father was able to save him from death. He could have prevented his dying, but he would not; for then the great design of his wisdom and grace must have been defeated. What would have become of us if God had saved Christ from dying?…

(4.) Christ, in the days of his flesh, offered up prayers and petitions to his Father, as a type of his intercession in heaven. A great many instances we have of Christ’s praying. This refers to his prayer in his agony (Matt. 26:39; 27:46), and to that before his agony (John 17:1-26) which he put up for his disciples, and all who should believe on his name.

(5.) The prayers and supplications that Christ offered up were joined with strong cries and tears, herein setting us an example not only to pray, but to be fervent and persistent in prayer. How many dry prayers, how few wet ones, do we offer up to God!

(6.) Christ was heard in the middle of what he feared. How? Why he was met* in and under his agonies, and in being carried well through death, and delivered from it by a glorious resurrection: He was heard in that he feared. He had an awful sense of the wrath of God, of the weight of sin. His human nature was ready to sink under the heavy load, and would have sunk, had he been quite forsaken in point of help and comfort from God; but he was heard in this, he was supported under the agonies of death. He was carried through death; and there is no real deliverance from death but to be carried well through it. We may have many recoveries from sickness, but we are never saved from death till we are carried well through it. And those that are saved from death will be fully delivered at last by a glorious resurrection, of which the resurrection of Christ was the earnest and first-fruits.

He Learned Obedience

[1.] The privilege of Christ: He was a Son; the only-begotten of the Father. One would have thought this might have exempted him from suffering, but it did not. None of us who are the children of God by adoption should expect an absolute freedom from suffering. What Son is he whom the Father doesn’t correct or discipline?

[2.] Christ made improvement by his sufferings. By his passive obedience, he learned active obedience; that is, he practiced that great lesson, and made it appear that he was well and perfectly learned in it; though he never was disobedient, yet he never performed such an act of obedience as when he became obedient to death, even to the death of the cross. Here he has left us an example, that we should learn by all our afflictions a humble obedience to the will of God. We need affliction, to teach us submission.

He was made perfect

[1.] Christ by his sufferings was set apart firmly into his role, consecrated by his own blood.

[2.] By his sufferings he completed that part of his role which was to be performed on earth, making reconciliation for iniquity; and in this sense he is said to be made perfect, a perfect propitiation.

[3.] Thus, he has become the author of eternal salvation to men; he has by his sufferings purchased a full deliverance from sin and misery, and a full fruition of holiness and happiness for his people. Of this salvation he has proclaimed in the gospel; he has made an offer of it in the new covenant, and has sent the Spirit to enable men to accept this salvation.

[4.] This salvation is actually given only to those who obey Christ. It is not sufficient that we have some doctrinal knowledge of Christ, or that we make a profession of faith in him, but we must hearken to his word, and obey him. He is exalted to be a prince to rule us, as well as a Savior to deliver us; and he will be a Savior to none but to those whom he is a prince, and who are willing that he should reign over them; the rest he will account his enemies, and treat them accordingly. But to those who obey him, devoting themselves to him, denying themselves, and taking up their cross, and following him, he will be the author, aitios—the grand cause of their salvation, and they shall own him as such for ever.


*I believe M.H. is referring to Matthew 4:11 “Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Contrast with Matthew 27:46.)

April 24, 2014

So What is Our Response to the Easter Story?

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John 14 (The Voice)

Philip: Lord, all I am asking is that You show us the Father.

Jesus (to Philip): I have lived with you all this time, and you still don’t know who I am? If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. How can you keep asking to see the Father? 10 Don’t you believe Me when I say I abide in the Father and the Father dwells in Me? I’m not making this up as I go along. The Father has given Me these truths that I have been speaking to you, and He empowers all My actions. 11 Accept these truths: I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me. If you have trouble believing based on My words, believe because of the things I have done. 12 I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father. 13 Whatever you ask for in My name, I will do it so that the Father will get glory from the Son.

Everyone we meet, and we ourselves, needs to respond to the story that crossed our path last week: The Passion Week narrative.  I love the way this song asks the question — it’s one of the most powerful songs I’ve come across — and I was surprised to discover the song has never been featured here.  This appeared many years ago at Thinking Out Loud…

As any worship leader will tell you, Easter offers us music which best captures the essence of our faith; best captures the essence of the gospel. All worship should be ‘Christo-centric,’ but at this time of year the intensity of our worship seems so much focused.

One of my personal favorite pieces this time of year is not a congregational song, but a performance piece called “How Could You Say ‘No?'” written by Mickey Cates and performed by Julie Miller. When my wife had a soundtrack for this, we were repeatedly asked to do it each year at the church we were attending; later on we did it with live music.

christoncross

The song asks the question: How can you see what Christ did for us on the cross and then just walk away, knowing it was your sin that put him there; knowing that he did this for you?

Take the next four minutes just to focus on this song and all that it means.

Thorns on His head, spear in His side
Yet it was a heartache that made Him cry
He gave His life so you would understand
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

If Christ Himself were standing here
Face full of glory and eyes full tears
And he held out His arms and His nail-printed hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Jesus is here with His arms open wide
You can see with your heart
If you’ll stop looking with your eyes
He’s left it up to you, He’s done all He can
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

How could you look in His tear-stained eyes
Knowing it’s you He’s thinking of?
Could you tell Him you’re not ready to give Him your life?
Could you say you don’t think you need His love?

Thorns on His head, your life is in His hands
Is there any way you could say no to this Man?

Oh, is there any way you could say no to this Man?

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