Christianity 201

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?

May 1, 2013

Jesus Answer Knocks Them Off Their Feet

 

“…they drew back and fell to the ground.” ~John 18:6

The quotation above is from John’s account of Jesus’ arrest. Judas leads a group of soldiers and Pharisees to a grove of olives and Jesus steps out from his group and asks who they are seeking. They said, “Jesus of Nazareth;” and he answered, “I am he.” And then John tells us that at the words, ‘I am he;’ they fell to the ground. I’ve quoted the NIV (or ESV) above; The Message version adds a different dimension, “He said, “That’s me.” The soldiers recoiled, totally taken aback. Judas, his betrayer, stood out like a sore thumb.”

This detail about the soldiers is singular to John’s gospel. (He doesn’t mention the betrayal with a kiss at all.) I’ve often wondered what caused this particular reaction.

  • The Life Application Bible suggests that they were startled by the boldness of his question
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary suggests he unnerved his captors, some of whom may have been the ones previously unable to lay hands on him (John 7:43-46);
  • Though the Pharisees had seen Jesus teaching in the temple, it’s possible the soldiers had never seen him up close and personal. As they came into proximity with him he was either not what they expected, or they sensed something “wholly other” about him. (Matthew Henry adds that the term ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was used derisively, and that Jesus could have simply answered “No” for technically he was ‘Jesus of Bethlehem.’)
  • The Life App. and various other commentaries tell us that his “I am he” answer used the “I AM” form of God’s name; it indicated his claim of divinity. There are many pivotal turning points in John’s text, but this is one where we often miss the full impact;
  • The above, combined with what they where about to do; they suddenly felt the impact of their own actions. Were they arresting an innocent man? Were they arresting God?
  • If the full force of his answer registered at all; Matthew Henry points out they would realize that he could simply strike them dead at that point. Was there any limit to his potential response?

Without taking away from any of these explanations, I want to introduce a new dimension to the narrative that had never struck me before in this context. I picked this up reading Michael Card writing in an older issue of the Our Journey devotional booklet.

“When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He was already bloody before anyone laid a hand on him. He had been fighting a battle that would make certain the final outcome on Calvary. The blood and water that flowed from his wounds on the cross were preceded by bloody sweat that poured from His pores as He suffered the agony of a death more painful than the physical death of the cross, the death of the will... The painful crushing began appropriately enough, in the garden…” ~ Michael Card (Italics added)

What do you do if you are the soldiers, sent to arrest someone, who looks more like a victim than a criminal? What do you do if the plan calls for flogging or torture and the person seems to be already spent? Could that be part of what caused them to draw back and fall to the ground?

March 31, 2013

It’s a New Day

I thought we’d begin today with a comment that George Hartwell left here a few days ago:

It is still the evening before it all – the evening when God revealed the secret that had been hidden for 1,200 years. All those Passover meals, all those animal sacrifices over all those years would soon be cancelled from the Roman cross with the declaration that “It is finished!”

The whole system of remembering the Passover is about to be fulfilled in one who revealed at a Passover meal with his disciples that he is The Lamb. The secret was revealed by the Spokesman for the Three, to a small group of 12 or so.

The Temple, the priests, the sacrificial system, the religious way of appeasing and appealing to God was all fulfilled and finished. Fulfilled in the one who is The Lamb and finished by the one who is The Lamb.

Enough of law, ritual and feast, They – the Three – want to meet with you and me, face to face, like Jesus that night having a special meal with his men, and sharing the secret. “I am the Lamb. Don’t you know me,__________?”

It’s a new day.

The sun rises on the age of a new covenant.

Yesterday, Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk posted a song which, strictly speaking is not an Easter song, but then again, it is insofar as it describes the next climactic scene in the panorama of scripture, when God and man sit down together, which is made possible by Calvary. He introduced it:

This week I thought I would share my favorite hymn with you, a hymn very appropriate for this weekend. Truly, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, God and man at table are sat down. Enjoy, and Happy Resurrection Day.

Yes, fellowship with God starts now; eternal life starts now.  He has a different version posted, this one is an earlier one that is audio-only for my readers in remote places. You know who you are!

This is Hebrews 10: 11-12 from The Voice Bible, which is similar in some respects to The Amplified Bible:

11 In the first covenant, every day every officiating priest stands at his post serving, offering over and over those same sacrifices that can never take away sin. 12 But after He stepped up to offer His single sacrifice for sins for all time, He sat down in the position of honor at the right hand of God.

Click here to read the whole chapter in The Voice.

July 11, 2011

The Wonder of Your Cross – Robin Mark

When I posted the song Lion of Judah here yesterday, I discovered that another Robin Mark song, The Wonder of Your Cross, is conspicuously absent from this blog.  So without waiting another day…

Sometimes we sing songs and never really consider the theology we are singing.  A line might not feel right, but we’ll sing it anyway without thinking.  There are often questions about the line

Were heaven’s praises silent in those hours of darkness?
Your Holy Spirit brooding ’round that empty throne…

Empty throne?  I thought God was always on the throne.  Here’s Robin’s response:

I used the word “empty” in the third verse to convey the absence of the Son from His rightful place.  (Heb. 1:3, Rev. 3:21, Ps. 110:1).  God was, is, and always will be on His heavenly throne, but it is part of the fantastic mystery of the cross that, for a time at Calvary, his Son was separated from the Father for our sakes.

I hope that helps.  Here are the references (NIV) Robin quoted:

Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Rev 3:21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Psalm 110:1 The LORD says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”

May 18, 2011

Be Our Resurrection and Life

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Although it’s long past Easter, this Easter prayer continues to have a life of its own in various blogs.   This cut and paste is from David Neff’s blog.  The author of the prayer is Mark Galli.

Easter Prayer 2011

O Risen Lord, be our resurrection and life.

Be the resurrection and the life for us and all whom you have made.

Be the resurrection and the life for those caught in the grip of sin and addiction.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who feel forsaken.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who live as if you do not.

Be the resurrection and the life for those who do not believe they need resurrection and life.

Be the resurrection and the life in churches that believe they are dying, and in successful churches who don’t know they are dead.

Be the resurrection and the life in us who know the good but fail to do it, who have not been judged but still judge, who know love but still live for self, who know hope but succumb to despair.

Be the resurrection and the life for those dying of malnutrition and hunger.

Be the resurrection and life for those imprisoned unjustly and those imprisoned justly.

Be the resurrection and life for those who live under regimes that seek to crush all who proclaim resurrection and life.

Be the resurrection and the life for those in the throes of sickness that leads to death.

Be the resurrection and the life in families where the weak are maltreated by the strong.

Be the resurrection and the life in marriages that are disintegrating.

Be the resurrection and the life for women trafficked and enslaved by the forces of wickedness.

Be the resurrection and the life for those whose lives are snuffed out in the womb.

Be the resurrection and the life for anyone anywhere who knows suffering and death in any form, and for Creation itself, which groans in travail.

Be the resurrection and life in the life we share and the fellowship we enjoy, that filled anew with the wonder of your love and the power of your grace, we may go forth to proclaim your resurrection life to a world in the grip of death and yet on the verge of redemption, a redemption promised by you and assured by what occurred on the first Easter morn.

Amen.

April 23, 2011

The Scandal of the Cross: Look Who’s Getting In!

Part III of Setting our Faces Toward Jerusalem Series

A couple of years ago we were at Willow Creek at a time that they were getting ready to bring in a major country artist for a concert. It struck me that instead of promoting the benefits to be had for those adherents of the church who would be attending, they instead promoted the value of the artist’s reputation in terms of inviting unchurched neighbors, co-workers and family. “This is the best invite opportunity you’ll ever had,” was close to how Bill Hybels put it.

good-friday

In a way, Easter is like that. I don’t mean the actual Good Friday or Easter services at a local church, so much as the conversational opportunities it affords. You can talk about things during the next 48 hours that you simply might never get to the rest of the year, other than perhaps Christmas. This is a prime opportunity to talk about Jesus, the Cross, sin, death, forgiveness, atonement, resurrection — major themes of Christian doctrine and practice that just don’t come up in normal conversation. Provided you don’t introduce those topics artificially, you can still bring the discussion around to Easter fairly easily and then say what it means to you personally.

In considering writing this however, it occurred to me that voicing this suggestion is not unlike sitting in church and hearing a great sermon and then deciding that someone else that we know has to hear it; the idea that this time of year is a great opportunity for the benefit of somebody else. But this time of year comes around in the Christian calendar not so much for anyone else but for me. This is my time to sit and contemplate that it was my sin that led Christ to the cross to die in my place. This is why Jesus came; because we needed a savior.

The apostle Paul said that it was for this reason that Christ came into the world: to save sinners. And then he adds something like, ‘of which I am the worst.’ I, so undeserving, so unable to gain salvation by any of my own efforts, gets included in Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary just by saying to God, “I want to be included among those who realize that this sacrifice was for me; I want to be among those covered by what happened that day on the cross.”

And look who else is getting in: The woman caught in the act of adultery; the thief on the cross; the prodigal son and his elder brother. Christ died to save sinners of which we all are the worst. We’re a bunch of misfits.

So this year, we need to be re-examining the story looking for things we’ve missed before; looking for things in a familiar story to touch us in a new way. Then, because of what Christ did, and because we’ve allowed ourselves to be changed by it, we look for opportunities to share this story with others at a time it is so much easier to do so, than at any other time of year.

And really, isn’t that just like the Gospel? Part one is “taste and see;” and part two is “go and tell.”

April 21, 2011

Famous Last Words…

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.

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

April 20, 2011

He Took The Nails

I only know her as Missy.  She writes a parenting blog, It’s Almost Naptime, that often draws over 1,000 (mostly women) readers in a single day, and I highly recommend it, especially if, like her, your family grew quickly and the kids are still small.   I dropped in this morning only to discover a wonderful illustration in one of her recent posts, Better Me Than You.

[C201 readers are always encouraged to read the post at the author’s website/blog.]


Because I am barefoot 99% of the time, and because we aren’t the neatest house on the block, the incident of stepping on sharp, pointy objects is an all too common occurrence.

I wish I could blame it on the kids, but I’ve never had the neatest house on the block. My floor has always been a bit of a landmine. The soles of my feet are riddled with the scars of my domestic ineptitude.

Recently for some odd reason I was blessed to be wearing shoes when I stepped up the stairs and directly on top of a wayward nail which pierced straight through the sole of my shoe and into my poor foot. As I screamed dramatically, the thought ran through my mind which, for almost seven years, has been repeated every time I have been assaulted by my own home: Glad I got to that first. Better me than one of the kids.

That pretty much sums up the change in our hearts (and pain tolerance) caused by motherhood, doesn’t it? A tack in the foot no longer yields screaming and curses, but gratitude. The same tack could have harmed the sweet soft skin of my precious child. It hurts, but it would have hurt my baby worse. Better me than him.

Soon after Shepherd’s birth, I realized my love was so strong for this child that, not only would I take a bullet for him, but I’d take a bullet for him gladly. With zero hesitation. Now the chances of me being asked to take a bullet for one of my children are thankfully very small. But thumbtacks? Slivers of glass? Runaway carpet nails? A Lego with a vendetta? It’s a repetitive – sometimes daily – sacrifice.

Today I was cleaning the girls’ room. As I slid my hand under Maggie’s bed, my right thumb made direct contact with a pointy piece of glass. A rather large piece of glass, which could have done substantial damage to a small foot. My blood oozed from my body, while, as usual, I expressed gratitude for the opportunity to get to it first. Better me than her.

I stared at the blood stained glass when suddenly, I stifled a sob, and doubled over.

For the image of my bloody Savior hanging on a cross had appeared in my mind.

And He said, Better Me than you.

The Lord, in His wondrous mercy, beat me to the piercing, and the pain, and the blood. It was a sacrifice. Because He loves me even more than I love my own children.

When they tied his arms to a post with his back exposed, and He braced Himself for what was to come, He said, Better Me than you.

When they raised the whip, it’s tendrils tied with pointy pieces of glass and metal and bone, He said, Better Me than you.

When they brought the whip down on His back, with full force, over and over and over and over and over, He said, Better Me than you.

When the skin had been shredded and the arteries and veins in the muscles in His back began to hemorrhage, He said, Better Me than you.

When they dug the crown of thorns into his head, He said, Better Me than you.

When they grabbed His beard in their hands and pulled as hard as they could to rip the hair from His face, He said, Better Me than you.

When they cursed Him and called Him the foulest names they could think of, He said, Better Me than you.

When they slapped and punched His bleeding cheeks, and mocked Him, and spit on Him, and beat Him with a staff until His bloody tortured body was unrecognizable as human, He said, Better Me than you.

When they forced him to lift the seventy five pound crossbeam, lay it across his scourged and lacerated shoulders, and ordered his failing body to walk, He said, Better Me than you.

When the loss of blood and the pain from the tortures caused him to stumble and drop the cross, He said, Better Me than you.

When they stripped off all His clothes and threw His naked, mutilated body down on the cross, hammered thick, heavy, wrought-iron nails into His wrists, then lifted Him into place, He said, Better Me than you.

When they crossed his ankles and hammered similar nails into the arches of his feet, He said, Better Me than you.

When He struggled to breathe, causing Himself excruciating pain no matter how He moved, He said, Better Me than you.

When He looked into the face of a mother, His mother, watching the murder of her precious child, her baby boy, He said, Better Me than you.

When His Father turned His back on Him, when He felt most forsaken, when He cried out in agony and heartache and despair, He said, Better Me than you.

When His chest filled with fluid and He felt His own heart drown within Him, He said, Better Me than you.

When He cried out before He finally suffocated to death, He said, Better Me than you.

When He took on the wrath of God and paid the penalty for your sins, and my sins, and our beloved children’s sins, He said, Better Me than you.

This is love:
not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 4:10
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