No Foolin’

Easter

Please read 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 in your favorite Bible.  FYI: I use the NIV (1984).

As we observed weeks ago, the conjunction of Resurrection Sunday and April Fools Day is something that only comes along every 20 years, give or take.  It seemed to me that this is my only shot at preaching on this occasion and the Lord gave me a passage that has elements of both Jesus’ Resurrection and April Fools.

The history of April Fools’ Day is uncertain, but many believe it began in 1582 in France when King Charles IX required a switch to the Gregorian calendar; the one we currently use.  This makes today the 436th observance of April Fools’ Day.

The change was invoked on April first.  People who weren’t informed of the change were ridiculed as fools and that’s how the day was named.  As the new calendar took hold around the world, so did the custom of April Fools’ Day as a time of playing pranks and practical jokes to have a laugh at others’ expense.

This morning we’re going to take a look at the worst kind of foolishness; rejecting God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.  Don’t be fooled by lesser offers; find life in Christ.

Unbelief is foolishness: don’t you be fooled!

  1. Folks who were fooled crucified Jesus.

The first comparison of the passage: two kinds of WISDOM are contrasted: worldly wisdom and heavenly wisdom.  Heavenly WISDOM is only for the MATURE (6).  Who are MATURE people? They are people who have accepted God’s gracious gift of salvation by faith.  And they go further, continuing to learn by study and practice in daily living.  MATURE people have received salvation and are undergoing sanctification.  This WISDOM is centered on the cross and the empty tomb; it is summed up in what we have gathered to celebrate: Easter!

The “wisdom” of THIS AGE and the RULERS OF THIS AGE are both futile; they inevitably come to NOTHING (6).  Why are they doomed to failure?  Because they refuse God’s gift of salvation by faith and stubbornly insist on works to earn it.  To these people the message of the cross is FOOLISHNESS.  (Here is our first tie-in to April Fools Day.)  So it comes down to a distinction between believers and unbelievers.

The “wisdom” of THIS AGE fooled some folks into crucifying THE LORD OF GLORY (8).  The RULERS OF THIS AGE probably refers to the leaders of government and religion at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  But based on how Paul used this phrase elsewhere, some scholars think he is referring to spiritual beings.  If the devil thought he could silence Jesus by killing him on the cross; boy was HE FOOLED!

Whether leaders or devils or both, the powers opposing Jesus fooled themselves when they guessed the cross would be the end of the story!  This is our second tie-in to April Fools’ Day.

Because they operate without the Spirit, God’s truth seems like FOOLISHNESS to unbelievers (14).  Here’s our third tie-in to April Fools’ Day and our second contrast.  The contrast here is between material things and spiritual things.

People who only believe anything their five senses can verify do NOT ACCEPT truths that come from spiritual sensitivities; such things seem foolish to them.  Spiritual discernment is a kind of “sixth sense” and is available only as the Spirit reveals it.

  1. Believe the truth and be saved.

God’s truth is quite different from the world.  It is for the spiritually MATURE (6).  It might help to think of the word as “maturing” instead.  That way, we realize the Christian life is a life-long process of growth in wisdom.

The truth is, salvation is the destiny of God’s chosen (7).  It is clear that the Bible writers want to say that God knew and chose those who would be saved, and that people have to choose to accept God to be saved.  It is appropriate to say that God knew from before the creation of the world who would receive His salvation.  I want you to take this promise personally: GOD DESTINED this wisdom FOR OUR GLORY BEFORE TIME BEGAN.  BEFORE TIME BEGAN God knew you and loved you and did all of this so you could be part of His big heavenly family.

The truth is a SECRET, HIDDEN thing (7, 9).  It is SECRET and HIDDEN in three senses.  One, God revealed the truth over the course of several centuries of human history.  What is promised and hinted at in the Old Testament is fulfilled and declared openly in the New Testament.  Two, it can only be perceived by faith.  The Holy Spirit guides believers into all truth, but unbelievers’ minds are clouded by their own choice to reject God.  Three, in verse nine, Paul quoted Isaiah 64:4 to show that God’s plans are too wonderful for the human mind to grasp on its own.  We just can’t “get it” on our own.

God’s truth is revealed only by the Holy Spirit.  Paul wrote; GOD HAS REVEALED IT TO US BY HIS SPIRIT (10).  The Spirit replaces ignorance with knowledge.  God reveals Himself to us very plainly in the Bible, the word of God.  The Spirit helps us to be sensitive to the words in the Bible, to understand and apply them.

The SPIRIT knows this wisdom because it SEARCHES ALL THINGS, EVEN THE DEEP THINGS OF GOD (10).  God knows ALL THINGS, revealing to us even the DEEP THINGS OF GOD by means of the Spirit.  This will sound crazy to people still stuck in a worldly frame of reference, but it is true because God said so.

Paul offers an example in v. 11: it is true of human beings that we can’t read each other’s minds.  THANK GOD!  Am I right?!  If we can’t read each other’s minds then it is impossible for us to know the MIND OF GOD.  Only the Spirit KNOWS THE THOUGHTS OF GOD.  It’s obvious we need help: that’s where the Holy Spirit comes in to reveal truth to us.

God gives us His Spirit to know His truth.  In verse twelve we find a second comparison.  On the one hand, we have NOT been given THE SPIRIT OF THE WORLD. The WORLD is the system that opposes God.  It relies on human reasoning, senses, and even lies to dispute God’s word.

On the other hand, we HAVE received THE SPIRIT WHO IS FROM GOD.  Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is given to all persons of sincere faith.  True faith originates in, and is perpetuated by, the Holy Spirit.  The purpose of God the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to UNDERSTAND WHAT GOD HAS FREELY GIVEN US.  The Spirit helps us UNDERSTAND the love of God expressed in Jesus. Don’t overlook the word FREELY.  It is Paul’s reminder salvation is by grace, not by works.

By the Spirit we express SPIRITUAL TRUTH IN SPIRITUAL WORDS [variant text: “men”] (13). SPIRITUAL TRUTHS must be expressed in SPIRITUAL WORDS by spiritual people.  How can we possibly do that?  We can do it only as the Holy Spirit teaches us how to do it.

By the Spirit we show good judgment (15).  In our culture the word “judgment” has been misidentified as a vice.  However, the fact is that we must show good judgment in the choices we make.  The Holy Spirit informs our morality as it does our spirituality.  People of faith are to be more loving in word & deed.

By the Spirit we share THE MIND OF THE LORD/CHRIST (16). This is a staggering claim: we who believe have the MIND OF CHRIST! On an individual level, this measures our kinship with Christ.  We can think as He thinks, share his attitudes, and do what Jesus would do in every situation.  On a church level, this measures our unity.  We talk about being “like-minded,” referring to agreement on a particular issue.  But this is a more significant depth of relationship.

Our life with Christ is not an overlay on our personality, but a shared personality, a level of accord and maturity that will be unmatched by anything on earth!

Unbelief is foolishness: don’t you be fooled!

How do we take part in the resurrection of Jesus Christ?  In what way is Easter our victory, shared with Christ?  What does God ask of us?

God asks us to believe.  He has already done the 99% necessary for us to be saved.  Our 1% is to believe.

We receive His salvation by faith, not by works.  It is an act of grace He prepared even before He formed the universe.

Salvation is free, but it will also be the first step in a lifetime of change, a continual pursuit of maturity.  Salvation is free, but we gladly exchange all the world offers in order to attain more and more to a life that follows Jesus’ example.

Receive this gift this morning.  Make it the best day of your life, one that has eternal benefits.  Receive the Resurrected One, Jesus Christ, and one day, you will be raised with Him!

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Were You There?

board game

Casting about on the internet, I found part of a 2009 sermon by C. Philip Green entitled “Take A Risk.”  There he described a game published by Parker Brothers in the 1950’s.  It was called “Going to Jerusalem.”  (it’s worth $50 on Ebay!)

The players moved little plastic pieces across the Holy Land by looking up answers to questions in a little book of the Gospels provided with the game. Players started in Bethlehem, and moved their three pieces all the way to a “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem to win the game.

Pastor Green took exception to the fact that there was never any Crucifixion or Resurrection following the Triumphal Entry.  You just got to Jerusalem and quit.  He saw this as very unbiblical, promoting a shallow and impractical expectation of life and a lopsided view of Scripture.  Sure, it’s easy to get people to line up to be the life of the party, the “Grand Marshall” of the parade if that’s all there is, but there’s only been one man willing to face pain, humiliation, death, and taking on every other human being’s sin.
https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermoncentral–stories-discipleship-74176?+ref=TextIllustrationSerps

I have to agree with Pastor Green.  While the Triumphal Entry makes for a good game, we need to know the whole truth.  In the Bible, the Triumphal Entry was not an end in itself, it was the beginning of the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  What we’ll see this morning is that the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem supports two points: One, Jesus is King, and two, He’s not the king you’re looking for, but He is the King you need!

Please read Mark 11:1-11 in your favored version of the Bible.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.

What if you were there to welcome Jesus?

  1. Who would you have been?

Obviously, you’d have been a Jew.  You would have been one of thousands of pilgrims attending the Passover; a Jewish feast day and arguably the most important.  (If you melded Christmas and July 4th, you’d have a similar vibe: patriotic and religious.)  Jewish pilgrims came to the feast from all corners of the Empire.

Passover occurs in the spring, during the Jewish month of Nisan, on the 14th day, which is often in early April.  Using astronomical data, our best guess is that THIS Passover was April 3, AD 33 or April 7, AD 30.

The last leg of your trip is from Jericho to Jerusalem, and could be the most difficult part of your journey.  Jericho is 17 miles from Jerusalem, but the Roman road goes up and over the Mount of Olives, elevation 2600 feet.

There is a village along this route, but it is so small, off the main road, and so close to the city that not many people ever stop there as they make this journey.  So why does Bethany rate a mention in Mark 11:1?  Mark tells us that during the days prior to His death, Jesus didn’t spend nights in the city, but stayed in Bethany.  Bethany was home to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.

This is one of many instances where Jesus is shows He was completely in control of the events leading up to His death.  He didn’t want to be handed over to the Jewish authorities too soon; His death had to occur during the Passover.  Staying in Bethany kept Him further off the public “radar” until His time had really come.

  1. What would you have done?

We could twist our heads around backward trying to make a firm calendar of the events of the last week of Jesus’ life.  For example, Mark has Jesus going directly from Jericho to Jerusalem while John has Him stopping in Bethany first.  There are ways to reconcile these seeming inconsistencies, but today we’ll skip all those details and look at the sequence Mark offers.

Every faithful Jew was expected to return to Jerusalem at this time every year.  If you were wealthy, you probably did.  If not, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Jesus’ coming into the city was something people anticipated and raised the excitement of THAT Passover to new heights.  They were familiar with the details of the predictions about the Messiah in the Scriptures, so Jesus’ method of arrival sent an unspoken message: “Here I am!  Your King has arrived!”

SO – on this day you greet Jesus as a King, with the great enthusiasms we read in vs. 8-10.  You spread your cloak out on the road before Him.  This is the ancient equivalent of the “red carpet treatment.”  (In 2 Kings 9:13, when Jehu was crowned king, the people greeting him in this way.)  Your hope is that this parade will be the first step to Jesus assuming the throne of David, overthrowing the Romans.

You spread out branches cut from roadside fields.  In this culture cut branches were associated with joyous times. (For the Festival of Booths, palm branches were cut to make temporary shelters.)

You praise Him by shouting, “HOSANNA!” and “HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!”  Hosanna means “God saves!”  “BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD” was shouted by folks on one side of the road, while “BLESSED IS THE COMING KINGDOM OF OUR FATHER DAVID” was shouted as a response by folks on the other side of the road.  This antiphonal kind of worship was typical among the Jews; the Psalms were recited in this way.

  1. Why would this Passover be remembered?

Because it fulfilled Old Testament prophecy and a prophecy from Jesus Himself.  Jesus sent His disciples after the COLT as a demonstration of His miraculous fore-knowledge and divine authority over the events as they unfolded (vs. 2-4).

His miraculous foreknowledge is revealed in the fact that the animal was precisely where He said it was and the exchange occurred just as He said it would.  The fact that the owners initially objected shows Jesus had NOT made previous arrangements with them.  The disciples did not identify themselves or the LORD they represented.

His divine authority is indicated in the fact that the owners allowed the COLT to be taken by strangers who did nothing more than say, “THE LORD NEEDS IT AND WILL SEND IT BACK SHORTLY.”

This is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus rides anything.  He walked everywhere else.  The distance between Bethany and Jerusalem is just two miles.  The COLT is not needed for practical reasons, but was chosen to send a biblical message to the faithful pilgrims on the road; “Your Messiah has come!  God’s Promised One is here!”

You will also remember it because on that day your hopes and dreams were fulfilled.  At this time in history, the Jewish people had been under the heel of Rome for nearly 100 years.  They were understandably anxious to throw the Romans out of their land. During those years, men would claim to be the Messiah and amass a group of followers.  The inevitable result was a rebellion against Rome ending in bloodshed and even worse offenses imposed on the people as a means of punishment and discouraging further rebellion.

To these horrible violations you added with the typical and more personal abuses of authority you’ve experienced at the hands of Romans.

With the city crammed with pilgrims during the Passover, it was a yearly crucible for rebellion, and the Jewish leaders worried terribly about a repeat of past events.  You can see how easily a big public demonstration like this would provoke a deadly reaction in a way that Jesus’ teaching or miracles ever did.

One last fact to support this interpretation: when Jesus finally got into the city, what did He do?  Not much.  Verse eleven tells us He went directly to the temple, but just looked around a bit, then left!

That was surely unexpected and probably felt a little anticlimactic.  And it begs the question, why go to all of that trouble just walk in, look around, and walk back out again?

I believe the best explanation for Jesus’ action is because the parade accomplished Jesus’ purpose and there was nothing more to do.  He’d already made His point and there was no reason to linger.

Dr. William Craig Lane is a well-known apologist for the Christian faith.  I used his article on Mark 11 as a basis for my remarks and will quote a small part of it to conclude. (Go to https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/jesus-of-nazareth/the-triumphal-entry/ to see for yourself.)

“What lessons can we learn from the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry? Let me mention two. First, we see the Lordship of Jesus. The crucifixion of Jesus was not an accident that befell him unawares while visiting Jerusalem. Rather, Jesus understood and embraced his calling to undergo so excruciating a death. In fact he deliberately provoked the events that would lead to his execution. Throughout the process he displayed foreknowledge of the events of his passion and announced all these things in advance.

“The second lesson is related to the first: Jesus doesn’t always meet our expectations. The Jews expected a king who would be a great military leader who would establish God’s kingdom by force. But Jesus was radically different than they expected.”

At the beginning of this message I asked,

What if you were there to welcome Jesus?

I hope and pray your answer has come closer to the very message Jesus was trying to send: He came as King, but not the kind of King who meets worldly hopes or fulfills dreams we have written for ourselves.

I hope and pray you have decided to make Jesus YOUR King.  That you see in Him the fulfilling of all God’s promises on His terms and in ways that bless and challenge us in ways we didn’t anticipate or want, but have found to be exactly what we needed.

There is no better reaction you can have to the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry than to take your place among the crowds who welcomed Him.  No greater act of faith than to welcome Him as your own Lord and Savior.

Why’d He Do It? Our Salvation (Part One)

(Please read Colossians 1:13-23 in your Bible.  I have cited the NIV below.)

Jesus surrendered His life on the cross so we might live eternally.

One of the errors that threatened the first century Church, one of the reasons Paul wrote this letter, sounds very familiar to our ears as it is a growing error of our age as well.  It is the failure to understand who Jesus Christ is.  The understanding that is part of true and saving faith is that Jesus Christ is both God and Man.  Anything else is false.

One of the oft-repeated things said about our youngest generation especially is that they want Jesus but they don’t want the Church.  That’s error enough, but what really matters is the Jesus they want is one who’s been watered down to the level of political correctness, a Jesus that avoids offense at all costs.  Anything other than the biblical view of Jesus is a false, worldly creation, impotent to save and not worth worshiping.  Easter is robbed of its meaning and is a superstitious celebration of Spring.

I’ve learned a new word this week: “glurge.”  Dictionary.com defines glurge as “stories, often sent by email, that are supposed to be true and uplifting, but which are often fabricated and sentimental.”

(Retrieved at http://www.dictionary.com/browse/glurge on 3/24/16.)

I learned this word because I almost shared a glurge with you to introduce this morning’s message.  It seems that a story has been circulating around the Internet since 2001 that tells how Dr. Robert Schuller’s teenage daughter Carol (NOT Cindy), was in a motorcycle accident having a leg amputated. As the story goes this accident lead to an exchange of letters between Carol and actor John Wayne. Allegedly, Carol’s letter lead to “the Duke” receiving Jesus as his Savior three weeks before his death.

(To see this used as a sermon illustration by Jimmy Haile, (“Hope for the Hopeless,” 7/16/2011), go to http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-sermon-central-staff-stories-christianwitness-79891.asp to see it largely refuted, go to http://www.snopes.com/glurge/duke.asp or https://www.truthorfiction.com/johnwayne-schuller/.)

Unfortunately, the only parts of the story that can be confirmed as true are Carol’s accident and John Wayne’s death.  If the rest of the story were true, you’d assume that Dr. Schuller would have told such an inspiring story in his own pulpit, but he never did.             Too many people have decided that the Bible and the view of Jesus it presents are a “glurge.”  They deny the truth of Easter and some go so far as to deny that Jesus existed.

And with these denials, they forfeit their only hope for life.  Only the true Jesus offers any hope for a life of meaning in this world and eternal life after death.

You may not have known it before now, but part of the reason we’re here this morning is to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is NOT a glurge and that just as He lives, so shall all who – by faith – put their complete trust in Him.

  1. Jesus is supreme (15-19).

Verse fifteen states that He is the IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD.  The word IMAGE has two meanings in the biblical Greek language.

The first is “likeness.”  As you might expect, this refers to a reproduction of appearance such in a mirror or other reflective surface, or a portrait intended to be as realistic a depiction as possible.  One way the ancients honored their rulers and heroes was to put their eikon, their portrait, on a coin.  Wait.  We do the same thing, don’t we?  On a physical, scientific level, this sounds like nonsense: how do you reflect someone who is invisible?

The second is “Manifestation.”  This is not a physical reproduction, but an emotional/personal/spiritual one.  It can truly be said that Jesus reflected God the Father in thinking, feeling, morality, and spirituality.  This is the meaning Paul intended.

The Greek word in question is eikon, from which we get an English word familiar to computer users and Orthodox Christians: “icon.”  In computer usage, an icon is not a program, file, or website, but a picture that you associate with a program, file, or website, and the means of accessing them.

According to Genesis 1:26-27, God created humanity in his IMAGE; to be an “icon” that points back to him.  A problem arose when our parents Adam and Eve sinned against God.  The stopped being an accurate representation of God.  Sin marred them and they were no longer a manifestation of God’s presence.

William Barclay commented on this word, “’Look at this Jesus.  He shows you not only what God is; he also shows you what man was meant to be.  Here is manhood as God designed it.  Jesus is the perfect manifestation of God and the perfect manifestation of man.’” (The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 118.)

Also in verse fifteen, He is the FIRSTBORN OVER ALL CREATION.  In their culture, the firstborn son enjoyed privileges and rights that none of the other offspring held.  He was his father’s representative and primary heir.  In the Old Testament, this title is reserved for the Messiah.  But here FIRSTBORN is a title of honor and rank more than a statement of birth order.  Paul’s use of the term is not to imply that Jesus was created, but that He existed before creation and holds authority over creation.

That is why Paul wrote OVER ALL CREATION. God the Son played an active role in creation, as Paul makes clear in vs. 16+17: it is stated so plainly and forcefully, no comment is needed.

We need to appreciate this point because it makes the Incarnation so much more powerful; it gauges the depth of His sacrifice.  Think of it: the Creator made Himself subject to creation!

In verse eighteen it is written that He is the HEAD OF THE BODY, THE CHURCH.  In this Greek, the word HEAD has these two meanings.

The first is what we’d expect from our own use of the English term.  A person who is “head” of an organization is its leader, its chief executive officer.

The second is unfamiliar to us; Greek scientists considered the head to be the source of the body.  In intercourse, the man supplied the head and in gestation, the limbs and body descended from the head.  So they thought of Jesus as the source of the Church’s existence.

In Hebrews 12:2, Paul identifies Jesus as the AUTHOR of our FAITH.  Jesus is the Writer, the Originator of the story of the Church.  Whether or not we’ve taken the story in the direction the Author intended, well, that’s a discussion for another day.

One of Paul’s frequently used metaphors for the Church is THE human BODY.  In this physical life, the head guides the body.  The function of all the organs and life itself depends on the brain inside the head.  The Church is called the Body of Christ so that we never forget from whom we came and always maintain the greatest possible reflection and imitation of the life of our HEAD, Jesus Christ.

Also in verse eighteen, He is THE BEGINNING, THE FIRSTBORN FROM THE DEAD.  These phrases sound like repeats or restatements of what we’ve already learned.  But the details of the Bible are important, so we know this is not just repetition.  Instead, it reveals a new truth and looks ahead to the resurrection of the faithful to eternal life.

By virtue of His death and resurrection, Jesus is the BEGINNING of the resurrection that puts God’s people in heaven.  The Resurrection of Jesus set into motion a series of events that have been playing out in human history ever since, events that will culminate in His Second Coming and our being raised to eternal life.

Here the word FIRSTBORN does mean first in the sense of order.  Jesus is the first person to be resurrected from death to life.  This means our resurrection will be similar to His.

In vs. 19 we read that IN HIM ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL.  The focus here is on the word FULLNESS.  It means that the entirety of what it means to be God could be found in Jesus.  He is not a “second rate” version of God, but God in flesh.  Picking up the picture of an “icon” again, we can say that Jesus is not just a sketch of God, but he is a full and personal testimony to all that God is.

I like the part that says THE FULLNESS OF GOD WAS PLEASED TO DWELL in Jesus.  Remember that on more than one occasion in His ministry years, God the Father expressed His pleasure with Jesus by means of a supernatural voice that came from heaven itself!  In the Greek the word DWELL suggests a permanent residence, not a temporary one.  The divine side of Jesus’ nature is permanent; He always has been God and He always will be God.

In verse nineteen Paul wrote that He has FIRST PLACE IN EVERYTHING.  The phrase FIRST PLACE is a description of authority.  Having a divine nature, Jesus also exerts divine authority over EVERYTHING.

This is what Paul wrote to the Philippian believers; in response to Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice, God the Father recognized His ultimate authority: THEREFORE GOD ALSO HIGHLY EXALTED HIM AND GAVE HIM THE NAME THAT IS ABOVE EVERY NAME, SO THAT AT THE NAME OF JESUS EVERY KNEE SHOULD BEND, IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH AND UNDER THE EARTH, AND EVERY TONGUE CONFESS THAT JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, TO THE GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Let’s look one last time at that Greek word eikon which is so important to our understanding of why Jesus was born into the human family in the first place; why He ministered, then was killed and raised to life.  Jesus is the means by which God became personal to His people, a revelation of man’s ideal and God’s eternal nature.

Here’s what William Barclay wrote, “Eikon…was the word which was used for portrait in Greek.  But this word had still another use.  When a legal document was drawn up, such as a receipt or IOU, it always included a description of the chief characteristics and distinguishing marks of the contracting parties, so that there could be no mistake.” (The Daily Study Bible Series, p. 118.)

One of God’s purposes in this text is to remove all doubt about the person and nature of Jesus Christ.  He was and is God.  It’s mind-boggling to think that God would choose to become part of His creation; that He would suffer insult, pain, and death at the hands of people He created.

What grand motive would compel such a choice?  We’ve spent the last seven weeks examining several motives.  Today we’ve begun to look at the effect of Jesus’ choice:  our salvation.  Jesus did it to save us.

Primarily, this was to save us from eternal death, to bring us to life just as He had been brought to life.  Jesus wants to share His life with us.

But it isn’t just eternal life Jesus wants to share.  It is, secondarily, abundant life in this world.  Abundant life is found in choosing to be like Jesus.  It is experienced when we act as icons of Jesus, personal manifestations of His character, acting in obedience to His will.

“He is not Here”

(Please read Matthew 28:1-10.)

MESSAGE: Joy is one of our greatest resources of faith.  Our joy comes from the Resurrection.

CONTEXT: The previous section (27:62-66) introduces the Jewish clergy’s conspiracy to make sure there would be no deceit about the resurrection of Jesus.  They asked the Roman governor to set a watch to keep Jesus’ disciples away from the tomb.  This tells us two things: One, they were aware of Jesus’ promise to rise from the dead.  This is important: they knew His teaching to this extent and yet still rejected Him!  Two, they were so paranoid they anticipated a situation in which Jesus’ disciples would fake a resurrection.

The following section (MTW 28:11-15) is the conclusion of the conspiracy; the guards were bribed to create a false report, the Jewish clergy circulated the false report as a rumor, and the lie persisted to the days in which Matthew wrote his Gospel.

Matthew’s resurrection account is sandwiched in between these conspiracy notes.  So Matthew’s purpose is to expose falsehood of the Jewish conspiracy with the truth.

COMMENT:

  1. The evidence of the Resurrection.

One neglected bit of evidence contrary to the Jewish clergy’s “conspiracy theory” is Matthew’s evidence that there was no plot among the disciples to fake the Resurrection.  We see this in all the details that show the disciples were not initially interested in the tomb.

– While travel was forbidden on the Sabbath, the Sabbath officially ended at sundown.  If anyone wanted to get t/t tomb at the earliest possible moment, they’d have been there Saturday night.  Yet none of the disciples approached the tomb until Sunday.  In fact, if you were up to skullduggery, doing it Saturday night under the cover of darkness would make MORE SENSE.

– If anyone HAD tried to steal Jesus’ body, they would’ve run afoul of the soldiers guarding the tomb.

– Only the women approached the tomb.  If they’d planned to steal Jesus’ body, it would have been done by a group of men with enough physical strength to roll back the heavy stone that closed off the tomb.

– Matthew tells us that the women went to LOOK AT THE TOMB.  This is likely based on the traditional practice of the Jews to return to the tomb of a loved one for three straight days after death to make sure that they were truly dead.  (Apparently lots of human cultures have fears of being buried alive.)

– The other Gospel writers tell us that the women brought spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  There would be no need for these supplies if they were enacting a grave robbery OR expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead.  They expected to find a corpse in the tomb, and had planned to deal with it there, not take it away.

A second bit of evidence is the EARTHQUAKE. Before they could make arrangements to have the stone rolled back, the women experienced a VIOLENT EARTHQUAKE.  But the purpose of the EARTHQUAKE is not to roll the stone back; the text clearly says that the angel did that.  The purpose is to announce the angel’s arrival and the fact that something important has happened. Notice that the tomb is already empty when the stone is rolled away.  This was not done to let Jesus OUT, it was rolled away to let His disciples IN!

The third piece of evidence offered in Matthew’s Gospel is the ANGEL.  Matthew’s description of the angel’s appearance offers us insight into the Resurrection.  Most Bible descriptions of angels are understated.  Matthew and Luke’s description are more supernatural.

– HIS APPEARANCE WAS LIKE LIGHTNING. In Matthew 24:27, LIGHTNING is used to illustrate the suddenness of Jesus’ Second Coming.  Two aspects: the dazzling light of the glory of God and the suddenness of His appearing.

– HIS CLOTHES WERE WHITE AS SNOW.  This expression was also used to describe Jesus at the Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:2).  In Revelation 7:9, the great multitude of Jesus’ followers stand around God’s throne similarly dressed. It symbolizes the purity of the wearer.

– The appearance of the angel was so striking that THE GUARDS WERE SO AFRAID OF HIM THEY SHOOK AND BECAME LIKE DEAD MEN.  This explains how the tomb was open without the soldiers being guilty of dereliction of duty.

We can also gain insight from the angel’s testimony.

– “I KNOW THAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR JESUS, WHO WAS CRUCIFIED.”  Jesus appears to all who truly seek Him.

– “HE IS NOT HERE; HE HAS RISEN, JUST AS HE SAID” (see Matthew 16:21; 17, 23; 20:18-19 for instances where this promise was made).  Though the disciples did not understand or believe them at the time, Jesus kept His promises.

– “COME AND SEE THE PLACE WHERE HE LAY.”  The angel made them an invitation to use their physical senses.

– “THEN GO AND QUICKLY TELL HIS DISCIPLES…”  QUICKLY is for the sake of the other disciples who were still sick with grief.

– “NOW I HAVE TOLD YOU.”  From then on, they were responsible to obey or not.

The fourth and most significant piece of evidence for the resurrection is when Jesus appeared to them.

– SO THE WOMEN HURRIED AWAY FROM THE TOMB…AND RAN TO TELL HIS DISCIPLES. Their feet were propelled by excitement and a desire to obey.

– SUDDENLY JESUS MET THEM.  The word SUDDENLY carries a lot of force in the Greek; in English, it might be, “WHAM! There He was!”  The most important evidence for the Resurrection is all the people Jesus met after He rose from the dead.

– “GREETINGS,” HE SAID.  This typical greeting feels out of place in this atypical situation.

  1. The women’s response to the Resurrection.

We learn first that they were AFRAID, YET FULL OF JOY.  That exact reaction is the most logical one when a person truly encounters God.  It sounds and feels like an odd mix, but it can be particularly energizing.

Second, they responded with obedience.  The angel told them to “GO QUICKLY” so they RAN.  This is a full, literal, and simple obedience.  Obedience in time is part of a full obedience.  To obey fully is to obey immediately.  They were sensitive to how well received this news would be and they were understandably eager to tell Jesus’ BROTHERS (a gracious term!).

Third, worship.  This word combines two Greek words; “to kiss” & “to bow.” It is a word picture of the posture and the attitude of worship; deference given to an authority figure.  It was customary in that culture, to show respect for someone important to kneel before them and kiss the hem of their robe.  While it sounds strange to us that the women CLASPED THE FEET of Jesus, this was the most appropriate behavior in the situation.  They expressed complete submission to Jesus.

Faces Around the Cross – Yours

Please read Galatians 2:17-21.

          In a sermon by Don Aycock he begins: “Menelik II was the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1889 until 1913. News of a successful new means of dispatching criminals reached him. The news was about a device known as an electric chair. The emperor eagerly ordered one for his country. Unfortunately, no one bothered to warn him that it never would work because at that time, Ethiopia had no electricity. Menelik was determined that his new purchase should not go to waste. He converted the electric chair into a throne.

          “There was another occasion when an instrument of death became a throne. On a Palestinian hillside about 20 centuries ago, a cross became a throne for one named Jesus of Nazareth. To this day, that ancient instrument of torture and death is converted into a powerful symbol of life, hope and resurrection. Millions of people around the world see the cross as God’s way of indicating His refusal to let death and destruction have the final word.”

(Retrieved from http://www.preaching.com/sermon-illustrations/11710755/ on 4/17/14.)

          A young man approached an older Christian with this question: “What does it mean as far as this life is concerned to be ‘crucified with Christ’?” The believer replied, “It means three things: (1) a man on a cross is facing in only one direction; (2) he is not going back; and (3) he has no further plans of his own.”

          Commenting on this, T. S. Rendall wrote, “Too many Christians are trying to face in two directions at the same time. They are divided in heart. They want Heaven, but they also love the world. They are like Lot’s wife: running one way, but facing another. Remember, a crucified man is not coming back. The cross spell finis for him; he is not going to return to his old life. Also, a crucified man has no plans of this own. He is through with the vainglory of this life. Its chains are broken and its charms are gone.”

In the light of these truths, would you say you are acting like a “crucified” Christian? – H.G.B.

Our Daily Bread, Saturday, November 28

(Retrieved from https://bible.org/illustration/galatians-220 on 4/17/14.)

          Grace is dispensed without the Law – by personal participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

            Throughout Lent we have taken a look around the actual, historical cross of Jesus Christ.  We have noted the faces of the people who were there.  We have learned what we could from their examples, both good and bad, to become, ourselves, more like Jesus.

            But now, in the final installment, we are going to look around the cross one last time, but with spiritual eyes, not historical ones.

          Paul is trying to show the church in Galatia that a return to Jewish-style legalism was a bad idea, because the Law never justified anybody.  The Law God gave Moses was designed, from the beginning to point out our sin so we would repent and seek God’s gracious forgiveness.

 

Be crucified with Christ = be dead to your sin nature.

          Paul is obviously writing about the cross in a spiritual sense because none of us were crucified on Golgotha that day.  Yet he wrote, I HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST.  (The verb CRUCIFIED is in the perfect tense, which means that it is a past event that continues to have effects in the present and future.  It literally means “co-crucified.” Matthew & Mark use it to refer to the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus.  Therefore our face is at the cross.)

          We don’t know where he was on the day Jesus died, but we do know where Paul WASN’T – he wasn’t nailed to the same cross on which Jesus died. So when he wrote, I HAVE BEEN CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST,” he’s writing about a two-fold experience.

          One, it was a spiritual experience.  It was not his earthly life that he lost on Good Friday, for Paul died a martyr’s death by beheading several years later.

          Two, it was a personal experience. “I” is a key word in this phrase.  Paul owned his faith fully and personally.  It was not off in a compartment of his life marked “Sunday mornings;” it was something he lived every day.  Philippians 3:10-11 = I WANT TO KNOW CHRIST AND THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION AHD THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERINGS, BECOMING LIKE HIM IN HIS DEATH, AND SO, SOMEHOW, TO ATTAIN TO THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD.

          Spiritual death means disposing of our sin nature.  Human beings are born with a three-fold nature.

          Our Sin Nature is an appetite for disobedience, a fascination with evil, and a tendency to violence (verbal, emotional, physical).  The Sin Nature is morally evil. The part of us that was CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST is our Sin Nature.

          Our Human Nature overlaps the other two and is often mistaken for them.  Human Nature is our tendency to be selfish; the set of behaviors that are based on survival and self-care instincts.  It will be part of us as long as we dwell in this body, but our Human Nature is not intrinsically moral; it can lead to good or evil.  Human Nature is not our problem; misusing it to sin is our problem.  Jesus is the solution.

          Our Spiritual Nature is the inner, non-physical part of us.  This is the part of us that communes with the Holy Spirit in us.  Our Spiritual Nature is the accumulation of our moral decisions and our spiritual actions; the more evil we do or think, the more our Spiritual Nature becomes characterized as evil.  The more we do or think in alignment with God’s character, the more our Spiritual Nature becomes characterized as good.  Think of it as a ratio of good to evil.

          Paul describes the effect of the death of his sin nature; I NO LONGER LIVE.  He did not die spiritually; his Spiritual Nature lived on.  In fact, Paul had a very full life in the Holy Spirit and was greatly used by God to help found the early Church and write most of the New Testament.

          He did not die physically on that day; as we have already observed, his Human Nature continued on.  This explains why people continue to be tempted to sin even after they have been saved.  Human Nature is mistaken for the Sin Nature.  Sinful things continue to have a perverse appeal.  That is not a sign of failure or defeat; no one should be discouraged about that; it’s a sign of being human and nothing more.  The devil distracts and defeats too many perfectly good Christians with false guilt based on this very misconception.

          Paul means for us to know that his Sin Nature died at 3:00 pm on that day when Jesus bowed His head.  He is no longer a slave to it.  The Sin Nature has no influence because it is gone.

         This isn’t just a theological truth to which we must shake our heads in agreement; this is a fundamental change in the way we view the world and from that, a change in the way we live on a daily basis.  Very simply, we change from a “Me and Now” viewpoint to a “God and Eternity” viewpoint.  We get completely away from doing evil or even liking evil. We get away from selfishness and worldly things.  God becomes our first priority, love our primary reaction, and we put others ahead of ourselves.  Just remember – “Me and Now” comes way after “God and Eternity.”  We need to see each day as a divine opportunity to bring Jesus into our world, which has beneficial effects that last through eternity.

 

Be raised with Christ = live in your Spiritual Nature with Christ.

          Life truly begins when we are born again and we can say with Paul, CHRIST LIVES IN ME. The reality of Jesus living in us is accomplished by the Holy Spirit. This is real life – it is our best hope for joy in this world and our only hope for life when our Human Nature ceases to be.

          Paul described the difference this fundamental choice makes when he wrote, THE LIFE I LIVE IN THE BODY, I LIVE BY FAITH IN THE SON OF GOD, WHO LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME.  Let’s break that down:

          IN THE BODY refers to our Human Nature, our life in this world.  This life does not cease when we receive Christ as Savior, but it receives a different purpose.  It conforms to new priorities.

          I LIVE BY FAITH is the characteristic pattern of our new life.  FAITH is oriented toward the Spiritual Nature.  FAITH relies less on the Human Nature, so it is NOT a matter of “willpower,” or “gut feelings,” or having a big brain.  It is all about God, not self. Paul makes plain the specific focus of FAITH, THE SON OF GOD, WHO LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME.  Jesus and what He has done for us becomes the focus of our faith. Part of living by faith is not being bound to legalistic religious rules.  Colossians 2:20 = SINCE YOU DIED WITH CHRIST TO THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF THIS WORLD, WHY, AS THOUGH YOU STILL BELONGED TO IT, DO YOU SUBMIT TO ITS RULES…?

          IN THE SON OF GOD means Jesus is the focus and objective of our faith. 

          WHO LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME shows that you are the focus and objective of Jesus’ faith. His act of sacrifice on the cross is what defines our life and is the example we follow as we live out our faith. The cross and the love of God are so linked in Paul’s theology that you can hardly find a reference to one without the other in all of his writings.

 

          Someone observed a sign in a Pennsylvania cemetery that read, “Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.”  Now there’s a resurrection-minded bunch!

          Walking home from Easter Sunday at church, a woman saw a man sitting on his front porch in a rocking chair.  He was bent over, his skin sallow and leathery, his eyes beady behind thick glasses.  But there was a great big smile on his face as he rocked.  She walked up to him and said, “I couldn’t help noticing how happy you look.  What is your secret to a long, happy life?”

          He considered this for a moment and then replied, “Well, I smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, drink seven six-packs of beer a week, eat all the greasy foods I can get, and never exercise”

          The woman was stunned.  “Amazing!” she said.  “How old are you?”

          “Twenty-seven,” he replied.

          The mortality rate in the US is 100%.  Everyone is going to die – some day.

          The question is not “when,” but “how.”  “How” as in “How will you live until you die and most importantly; “How will you live after you die?”  As morbid as this may sound, it is at the heart of what we’ve learned today.  Our Sin Nature must die so that our Human Nature can be made subject to our Spiritual Nature.  As Jesus died so that we might live, so must we put to death the parts of our character and personality so that we might live.  It is something we cooperate with God to accomplish.

          Rob Frazier, a contemporary Christian artist, wrote a song titled, “He Doesn’t Want You Better, He Wants You Deader” Dead people don’t mind the pain, Don’t get offended so they never complain They’re not concerned about personal gain, Does that sound like me or you? The truth is rising from the mist And the word is this; That when Jesus calls a man He calls him to come and die! He doesn’t want you better, He wants you deader.

(Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/scripture/illustrations-on-galatians-2+20.asp on 4/17/14.)