Christianity 201

July 29, 2017

Vain The Stone

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Today we pay a return visit to Jake Hunt who doesn’t write at his blog Wiser Time as frequently, but we knew we wanted to share this more recent article here.

Vain the Stone

A few years ago a friend’s father died somewhat unexpectedly. The family had young kids, and our friends weren’t sure how to help them understand what it meant that Grampa was gone and wasn’t coming back. So the dad did something that wouldn’t have occurred to me: He sat with his kids after the graveside service, and they watched the entire burial happen. The casket was lowered into the hole in the ground, and the guys came with the machines and filled the hole with dirt. They tapped it down and covered it with sod. When they were finished, the ground over the grave looked just like everything else. At that point, my friend said, his kids understood what had happened. Grampa’s body was in the box, the box was in the ground, and that was done. Grampa’s soul was in heaven with God.

These little kids were able to understand that burial is final. Once a body is in the ground, that’s it.

Now, contrast this with the approach of Pilate and the Jewish leaders after the death of Jesus.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)

I love what Pilate says: “Go, make it as secure as you can.” Do everything you possibly can to make sure that a dead body doesn’t go anywhere. Do everything you can to make sure that a 2-ton stone doesn’t move. Do everything you can, professional soldiers with javelins and swords, to make sure a bunch of terrified fishermen who ran into the night as soon as their leader was attacked don’t come and steal his decaying body. These guys literally have one job.

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal.

Fast forward to Sunday morning. The professional soldiers, having failed to keep the dead body and the 2-ton stone in place, are in trouble. So what’s the plan? A cover-up.

While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. (Matthew 28:11-15)

I want to be at this meeting where the soldiers explain “all that had taken place.” So, boss, here’s the deal. There was an earthquake, and an angel, and we, uh, passed out, and when we woke up the stone had moved and the body was gone.

You notice what the religious leaders don’t say? “Those rascally disciples!” They know that’s not what happened here. But it’s the story they go with. So the narrative becomes:

  • The professional soldiers all fell asleep. Asleep enough that
  • The disciples snuck to the tomb, rolled the 2-ton stone away, grabbed the body, and carried it away.
  • The professional soldiers did not notice all this.

The longer you think about it, the worse of a story it is. But at Matthew’s writing, it was the official version of the events among the Jews. It still is among a lot of otherwise intelligent people. Because they have to deal with the empty tomb.

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal.

Pilate couldn’t stop that body from rising, despite all the resources at his disposal. The religious leaders couldn’t stop the word from getting out that Jesus was alive, despite all the resources at their disposal. Because it had been determined from eternity past that the Son of God would become man, would live a perfect life on behalf of his people, would die for them, and would rise from the dead, having defeated death and sin and hell forever. Nothing was going to stop that.

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal. Vain the schemes of the devil. Vain the lies of God’s enemies. Vain the cowardliness of the disciples. Christ had risen, and the people in charge were powerless to deny it.

This is still the case for us today. Christ is risen. You can deny it if you want, but it’s just like denying that the sun came up this morning. Your denial doesn’t change the reality.

This is bad news for God’s enemies, then and now. But it is very good news for us.

If we are in Christ, the same unstoppable power that raised him from the dead now works for us. The devil can accuse us; our own sin can cause all kinds of problems; our enemies can persecute us; death can even seem to take us out for a time. But it’s all in vain. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal. Vain every attempt the world, the flesh, and the devil can make against God’s people. The Resurrection proves this is true. He is alive. He lives forever. And because of him, so do we.

March 28, 2017

Seeing it to Believe It

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
 ~John 20:25

Something different today. Bible exposition can take many forms. We’re familiar with formal exegesis as well as word study and even paraphrasing the story. This one goes beyond the usual paraphrase and provides us with a more dramatic context in which to view a familiar story. The author is Jenny and her blog is JennStory. Please, click the title below to read today’s devotional at her site. (This is also a great resource if  you’re looking for a reading at Easter.)

The Twin

Picture this: your world has just been shattered. And you did not see it coming.

Well, maybe you kind of did. You’re not stupid. Things weren’t going exactly well, but they were going magnificently. Something larger than life was happening, right before your eyes. You’d heard the prophecies all your life, of course, but you’d never dreamed you would live to see them be fulfilled. But you did, and you had a front row seat. He was your best friend. It amazed you, filled you with wonder.

But it didn’t blind you. You knew not everyone was pleased with him, not everyone believed in him. You knew some people, powerful people, wanted him dead. But you couldn’t imagine living without him. That was why, when he insisted on returning to a town where they had tried to kill him before, you told the others, his other friends, that you were going with him anyway. It was dangerous, yes. But you decided then that you would rather die with him than live without him.

But you didn’t die in that town, and neither did he. Instead you saw the strongest miracle yet, and for a moment, things looked better. It seemed that the people really realized who he was.

And then everything fell apart. They took him, and before you could think what to do, they killed him. And to twist the knife, it’s one of your own who betrayed him. And you can’t understand it. Somehow, you feel like he let you down. Like he let this happen to himself. Some part of you believed that he could do anything, and yet they killed him.

A week before you said you would rather die than live without him, but now that he’s dead and you’re still alive, you find yourself less willing. You’re scared, all of you. They killed him. You’re his closest friends, his strongest supporters. The ones who believed in him most. Won’t they come after you, too? So you lock all of your doors, and you sit and you wait. It’s a paralysis, cold in your heart, freezing your bones.

It’s dangerous to stay all in one place, might make you easier to find, but you gather as often as you dare. You need each other. No one else understands the pain and the despair of losing him. Everything you hoped and planned, shattered, ashes in your mouths.

But then one day you come in to find them all already gathered. They crowd around you, words falling over each other, trying to tell you something impossible. He’s alive. They’ve seen him. Talked with him.

But there’s no way. You saw him die. You know it. Dead is dead. Yes, he raised Lazarus, but he was alive then. And bringing someone back from beyond the grave – that’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You don’t doubt their sincerity, but they can’t be right. Most likely Jehovah sent them a vision to comfort their hearts. Which doesn’t seem quite fair, because your heart could do with some comforting as well.

They’re insistent, every single one of them, but you’ve never been one to take up an opinion just because it was popular. It’s clear that they really believe their message, but you, well, you doubt it. And you tell them so. You’ll believe it when you see it. When you touch those wounds that tore open your heart. And not a moment before.

And then he just shows up. Really, truly him. The same man you followed and loved for three years, but different somehow. Bigger. More joyful. He lets you touch him but he reproaches you a little for thinking you have to see him before you can believe. Not everyone will have that privilege, and they will be blessed for their faith. And as you look into his eyes and listen to his words, something ripens and blossoms, something that has been growing in you ever since the day he first told you to follow him. You fully and absolutely realize, at last, who he is. There is no room for doubt here.

“My Lord and my God.

• – •

It’s not the end of your story. He has fulfilled his mission, and now yours begins. Your task is to tell his story, to go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations. And you do it. You live many years after that, long enough to see a new kingdom rising. His kingdom. And at the end of your life, the thing happens which you once feared most, but which you are honored to face now: you die because you are his friend.

But you are not forgotten. Year upon year passes until everyone you ever met has died, and still your name is not forgotten. Down through the ages you are remembered, but not for the reason for which you lived. Not even for the reason for which you died. As far as history cares, there is only one moment in your life that really mattered – those few hours in which you were Thomas, the Doubter.

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

January 4, 2015

Contrasts of the Cross

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
Ephesians 5:2 NLT

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;
2 Cor. 5:14 NASB

God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.
 2 Cor: 5:21 NET

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
 John 15:13 NIV

 

I tried to find this online or some other information about it, but was unsuccessful. My beloved wife agreed to type this out manually. The copy we have attributes it to T. G. Low. As you study this, you might think of some key scriptures that come to mind beyond the four we’ve started with above.

Contrasts of the Cross

Contrasts of the Cross

We see the son of God, who created all things, hanging between the heaven and the earth which he created;

We see a man who loved the whole world, but was hated by his own people;

We see the light of the world, but he is dying in total darkness;

We see the Messiah, or the Christ, the anointed of God, wearing a crown of thorns;

We see the king of Kings and the Lord of Lords as a common criminal;

We see the healer of the sick the lame, the deaf and the blind suffering Himself in deepest agony;

We see the one who is served by millions of angels dying all alone;

We see the one who saved others with infinite power now weak in his own body;

We see the only person who lived without sin hanging between two thieves;

We see hands and feet that only brought blessing nailed to an old rugged cross;

We see He who set men free as a prisoner himself;

We see the king of the Jews treated by the Romans as a slave;

We see the innocent, holy, blameless lamb of God shedding His own blood to fulfill the will and purpose of God;

We see God, very God in Jesus Christ, crucified for his own creation;

We see the One who ordered the total universe dying amid great confusion near Jerusalem;

In the cross God sees life, but we see death;

In the cross God sees the healing of the nations but we see great suffering;

With human eyes we see the greatest tragedy of all time, but God in the cross sees the greatest victory that has taken place in heaven or on earth.

T. G. Low

April 13, 2012

Potpourri

Sometimes you are in a place where no worship song, no Christian book, no preacher or not even a close friend or relative can help you. Aren’t you glad that there is a ‘very present help in time of need?’. There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother! His name is Jesus! His presence is the most satisfying thing on earth! One moment with Him can change your life forever!

Matthew Murray
(www.shakethenations.com)

via Living4Christ


I’m struck again by the strangeness of the ending of Mark’s gospel. No angels. No visitations. No Emmaus. No breakfast. Just silence .

And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid
Mark 16: 8

Jesus is alive – the best news ever! But Mark gives us no account of the risen Jesus, just the fear and silence of his followers. I know that there are alternative endings to Mark – at least two of them. But I’m certain that Mark intended to end in this strange way. And I’m glad he did – it’s a great comfort to me.

Though Jesus followers fail him even at the resurrection, still the gospel goes on. Despite the silence of those followers, the message gets out. Jesus is alive!

We sometimes talk as though the ’success’ of the gospel depends on us. If only we would follow this program, use that prayer scheme, read the Bible in such a way, worship in a particular style – then God would bless us and all would be well. But the message of Mark is that at best the followers of Jesus are only ever playing ‘catch up’ with him. If a tomb could not contain him, then the failure of his followers will not constrain him either.

I find that curiously reassuring.

Richard Hall at Connexions


This past Sunday morning – I received a text from a friend that included five of the most powerful and encouraging words ever.  The text said: “Praying for you this morning.”

I cannot tell you how that lifted my spirits and encouraged me to preach with even greater passion.  I know that many people are praying for me weekly, but this text was so encouraging because there’s nothing I need more than your prayer.

In fact, if you want your Pastor to study well, to prepare well and to preach well – you need to pray well for your Pastor.

~B. J. Rutledge, pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise, Texas


“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich” (II Cor. 8:9).

In the genius of the blessed Trinity, our cruel rejection of Jesus became the way of our adoption; our bitter abuse became the way of the Father’s embrace and the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. For how could our unfaithfulness and contempt and treachery, or the enslaving lie of the evil one, or death itself break the love and oneness and life of the blessed Trinity?  In dying at our hands, Jesus brought his life into our death, his relationship with his Father into our gnarled pathology, his anointing by the Holy Spirit into our twisted darkness. Out of his boundless love “he was dishonored that he might glorify us,” (Gregory Nazianzen, Orations, I.5.) “he endured our insolence that we might inherit immortality”(Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, §54). Suffering our abuse to give us grace, he met our cruelty with his kindness, our rejection with his merciful acceptance, and our dead and despairing religion with his joy.  By accepting us at our very worst, by submitting himself to us in our great darkness, he entered into our world with his, thus transforming the shack of Adam’s horrid fall into the house of his Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In a variation on St. Paul’s great statement we might say, “For you know the stunning grace of the Father’s Son: that though he was rich in the shared life of the blessed Trinity, yet for our sake he became poor, suffering our wrath to meet us, and that now through his suffering we who were so poor have been included in Jesus’ own rich relationship with his Father in the Spirit.”

~Baxter Kruger, The House of His Father

Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of the Christian blogosphere.  An individual article may be posted even if some or all readers might not agree with other things posted at the same blog, and two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives.  The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading.

March 1, 2011

At The Cross I Bow My Knee; There’s No Greater Love Than This

Seven million people have watched this.  With Easter coming, here is a song to ask your worship leader to include in a worship service this year.

January 4, 2011

Before the Throne of God Above

This is a song you should know.   There are some studio versions available to listen to on YouTube; it’s been recorded by Shane & Shane, Selah, and it appears on the Top 25 Praise CD for 2007.   I was going to post the version from the T4G conference that’s online, but the overly exuberant worship leader really knows how to ruin the moment!   So I went back to this one.

The person who posted this annotated it this way:  “Some of the most profound, powerful and spiritually freeing lyrics I’ve ever heard. Thanks to Selah for putting their own arrangement to these classic lines.”  I associate the piece with Sovereign Grace Music, but the words were written by Charitie Bancroft in 1863.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea:
A great High Priest, whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on his hands,
My name is written on his heart;
I know that while in heaven he stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see him there
Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me

Behold him there, the risen Lamb
My perfect, spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I am,
The King of glory and of grace!

One in himself, I cannot die
My soul is purchased by his blood
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ, my Savior and my God
With Christ, my Savior and my God