A Resurrection Meditation

A Guided Meditation on JOHN 20:10-18

If you’ve never before attempted a guided meditation, here’s what I suggest.  Play some recorded music as an emotional backdrop.  The best choice is instrumental (not vocal), Christian, and of a slower tempo – something that doesn’t demand your attention.  Read the following aloud, stopping to think and feel about what you’re reading.  Don’t take notes – the emphasis here is on this moment and what may be gain by opening your heart to God.  Take your time; “Good things come to those who wait.”  Reserve an hour for yourself and God to meet privately or with a small group.  Be comfortable without becoming sleepy.  End with prayer where you tell God what you received through this exercise.

THE DISCIPLES WENT BACK TO THEIR HOMES

  • No one saw the scene depicted on our bulletin cover. No one saw the stone rolled away.  No one saw Jesus walk out.
  • You can understand how no one on the scene that first Resurrection morning knew just what to make of the stone rolled away and the linens left behind.

BUT MARY STOOD OUTSIDE THE TOMB CRYING.

  • Mary Magdalene and the others had forgotten what Jesus had said about being put to death and rising from the dead. The darkness that shrouded her world as she journeyed to the garden is a symbol the mystery yet to be revealed to her.
  • They hadn’t yet received one of the great gifts of Easter: hope. Hope is steady confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love.
  • Feel the rough stone under your fingers as you lean on the rock as Mary might have, steadying herself against a world that shook her to her core. The sights, sounds, and smells of the garden are lost to you; your awareness is limited to your own broken heart.

AS SHE WEPT, SHE BENT OVER TO LOOK INTO THE TOMB

  • Having steadied her weak knees and steeled her resolve, Mary decides to take a risk. To look for herself.  Not content to take the word of others, she must see with her own eyes what Peter and John described before they walked off and left her.
  • It takes courage to stare into the darkness. We have faith, but faith is hard-won when our eyesight fails us.  Like a penitent, Mary had to stoop to look within the tomb.  It was a sign, an illustration of the humility of her heart.
  • Her faith, like all genuine faith, was rewarded.

[SHE] SAW TWO ANGELS IN WHITE, SEATED WHERE JESUS’ BODY HAD BEEN, ONE AT THE HEAD AND THE OTHER AT THE FOOT.

  • You won’t see the supernatural until you look for it with faith-sensitized eyes.
  • Peter and John didn’t see them. They didn’t get it.  They didn’t take any chances.
  • Good for Mary! We honor her boldness and rejoice in her privilege to see God’s messengers.  She not only saw them, but heard the voices of heaven use simple human words.

THEY ASKED HER, “WOMAN, WHY ARE YOU CRYING?’

  • These angels expressed the heart of God Himself. God was concerned.
  • It was for Mary’s sake the question was asked. He wanted Mary to not just look outward, to not just dwell on the appearance of the angels; He wanted Mary to look inward too.  She would have to know her own heart in order to answer.

“THEY HAVE TAKEN MY LORD AWAY,” SHE SAID, “AND I DON’T KNOW WHERE THEY HAVE PUT HIM.”

  • Granted this vision from heaven, Mary nonetheless fails to free her thoughts from earth. She has beheld something few mortal souls have beheld, and yet her concern is for a corpse.
  • You remember Mary came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus; to properly prepare it for burial. She had no hope of seeing Him alive; her memory of His teaching failed her.  We can applaud Mary’s single-mindedness.  She had taken the risk of leaving home before the sun graced the horizon.  She had come to the tomb to do one last thing for her beloved master and had been thwarted.
  • But she hadn’t given up. She insisted on following through with her plan.  Indeed, the spices and cloths lay on the ground near her, right where she dropped them in surprise at seeing the stone already rolled away.
  • Disappointment did not deter this woman on a mission!

AT THIS, SHE TURNED AROUND AND SAW JESUS STANDING THERE, BUT SHE DID NOT REALIZE THAT IT WAS JESUS.

  • Perhaps He stood between her and the rising sun. That would be appropriate, wouldn’t it?  The Risen Son silhouetted by the rising sun?

“WOMAN,” HE SAID, “WHO IS IT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR?”

  • What kind of question is this for Jesus to ask her? He knows the answer full well.
  • Once again, God is trying to get Mary to look within herself. Jesus wanted her to go all the way in faith and answer, “You.  I’m looking for you, Jesus.”

THINKING HE WAS THE GARDENER, SHE SAID, “SIR, IF YOU HAVE CARRIED HIM AWAY, TELL ME WHERE YOU HAVE PUT HIM, AND I WILL GET HIM.”

  • Poor Mary. Now we begin to feel sorry for her.  She has practiced “selective seeing” and now “selective hearing” as well.  Her mind almost fully in the world, she neither sees the form of Jesus nor hears his voice.
  • In this moment, Mary is a symbol of the majority of humanity. People do not expect Jesus to be God.  They don’t believe He rose from the dead.  In their lack of faith, they neither see nor hear Him.
  • Jesus does not give up on them, however, just as He did not give up on Mary. He tries one more time.  He says her name.

JESUS SAID TO HER, “MARY.”

  • We all enjoy hearing our name spoken aloud. It gets our attention in a way other words fail to do.
  • In that precious moment, the world fell away from Mary. She saw and heard, as if for the first time.  There was no gardener.  There was only Jesus.
  • This is how we all come to faith, if ever we listen to the voice of Jesus. If ever we have faith to see beyond what the world is willing to allow as truth.  God appeals to each of us personally.  He calls us by name.
  • We are startled by a sudden awareness of the truth.

SHE TURNED TOWARD HIM AND CRIED OUT IN ARAMAIC, “RABBONI!” [WHICH MEANS TEACHER.]

  • Why did Mary have to turn toward Him again? When she saw and heard a gardener, Mary despaired and turned from Him.  In all our days, despair seeks to turn our gaze away from Jesus.  We look away in the moments we need Him most.  How tragic those moments are.
  • Recognition hit Mary suddenly. All her senses suddenly came alive, aware of the incredible truth: He was not dead!
  • The awareness flooded her conscious mind. Not moving by volition but purely on instinct, Mary reached out to touch Him; to hold Jesus and never let Him go again.  Like a child reaching out to grasp a flower or a butterfly or any beautiful thing, she wanted to possess Him.  But we don’t let our children crush the beautiful thing with their clumsy, excited fingers, do we?  We restrain them.  Accordingly, Jesus said,

“DO NOT HOLD ON TO ME, FOR I AM NOT YET RETURNED TO THE FATHER.  GO INSTEAD TO MY BROTHERS AND TELL THEM, ‘I AM RETURNING TO MY FATHER AND YOUR FATHER, TO MY GOD AND YOUR GOD.’”

  • With her mind now on heavenly things, Jesus commissioned Mary. He made her a partner in His Resurrection Day plans.  He made Mary one of His messengers.
  • Where God the Father had sent angels to Mary, now God the Son now sends Mary to His disciples. What an honor and privilege it is to carry the message that Jesus is not dead; He is alive forever.
  • May we see ourselves as sharing that honor and privilege with Mary, the one who held it first.

MARY MAGDALENE WENT TO THE DISCIPLES WITH THE NEWS: “I HAVE SEEN THE LORD!” AND SHE TOLD THEM THAT HE HAD SAID THESE THINGS TO HER.

  • Mary was faithful. Mary obeyed Jesus.
  • Forgotten in the excitement and no longer needed, she left the burial spices and burial cloths in the garden. That mission was rendered obsolete and she discarded it to take up this new mission with the same single-mindedness that brought her to the garden in the first place.
  • Mary went to the garden in darkness, to do her best for Jesus. She left the garden with enlightenment, determined to do her best for Jesus.
  • Pray to be spiritually alert, receptive to the direction of God the Holy Spirit. Pray to be  God’s messenger, making the good news known to all who should be our brothers and sisters.  Pray to be a minister of the resurrection, serving our risen Lord.
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Breathe in Peace

Please read John 20:19-23.

Jesus Exiting the Tomb

It’s been nearly a week since the world saw images of the cathedral Notre-Dame engulfed in flames.  As you are no doubt aware, there has been no shortage of reactions to the fire and opinions about rebuilding the historic building.

On one side you have the architectural experts who have already submitted unsolicited opinions that the cathedral should be renovated to reflect modern, politically correct sensibilities.  I heard one man condemn the cathedral as oppressive to non-Christians and non-whites.  His solution sounded to me like a kind of “religious mall” that accommodated worshippers of all faiths and no faith at all.

Chowderheaded notions like that betray the sad state of the PC crowd.  To have these thoughts, let alone express them in a public forum, is ridiculous.

On the other side I offer Mel Lawrenz, Minister-at-Large at Elmbrook Church and director of The Brook Network.  He wrote, “Notre-Dame de Paris is a church building, but also a landmark of civilization whose construction was started 858 years ago, taking 200 years to build. When its construction began, Paris only had 100,000 residents.

“What do the great cathedrals represent? Churches are built to facilitate worship. A church is a gathering place for the people of God. They stream to

it from the surrounding neighborhoods, and so enjoy a connection with each other, the basic movement that forms community and society.

“When I saw Notre-Dame burning what came to my mind was the great loss of this symbol, but also the fires burning up our civilization today.  Philosophies that deny the possibility of truth, the abnegation of morality and ethics, the devaluing of community and the descent into lonely isolationism. Churches settling for superficial sentimentalism and church leaders trading integrity for fame. Government leaders forgetting the very idea of selfless service. The laziness of crude social communication. There are dozens of fires smoldering among us, and none of us know when [one] will flare up & make us less civilized.

“A mason who worked on the beginnings of Notre Dame in AD 1160 knew he would not see it completed, nor his apprentice son, nor his son, nor his son. They all worked on something that God and the world could see 200 years after it was started. The most important things we work on in our lives will never be completed within our lifetimes.  And the most important things we will build are not buildings.”

<https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2019/04/the-notre-dame-fire-civilization-burning/?utm_source=bg&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weeklybrief&spMailingID=59057872&spUserID=MTI3ODAxOTkxODkwS0&spJobID=1622644128&spReportId=MTYyMjY0NDEyOAS2&gt;

The resurrected Jesus replaced His disciples’ fear with peace, joy, the Holy Spirit, and authority.

  1. They were afraid of the Jews.

They were afraid even though Peter and John had already seen the empty tomb (vs. 1-9) and Mary of Magdala had seen Jesus Himself (10-18).  If they’d understood from the evidence and eyewitness Jesus was raised from the dead what reason did they have to be afraid?

Clearly, they didn’t understand.    Peter and John saw only the empty tomb; they didn’t see Jesus.  This was evidence they’d misinterpreted.  They may have been concerned that the Romans or Jewish leaders were convinced Jesus’ body had been stolen, they would likely be blamed, sought out and arrested.   Without His body they had no way of proving their innocence on a grave-robbing charge, a crime that met with severe penalty: death.  The empty tomb may have added to their fears, not diminished them.

Mark 16:11 says the disciples found Mary of Magdala’s account to be unbelievable.  To be fair, Mark 16:12-13 says they didn’t believe the testimony of two others who said they’d met Jesus walking in t country.  This is nothing new; in the gospels Jesus rebukes the disciples several times for their being slow to believe (Luke 24:25).

Their fear was demonstrated in two ways (19).  One, they were gathered together, possibly believing there was strength in numbers.  Of course, they gathered for reasons other than fear; surely grief bound them together as well.

Two, they had locked the doors.  The motive for doing this is specified as FEAR OF THE JEWS.  John’s reference to THE JEWS probably meant the Jewish religious and civil authorities; the Sanhedrin.  What did the disciples fear THE JEWS would do to them?  Probably some version of what they’d done to Jesus, perhaps more quietly.

  1. Jesus replaced their fears with blessings.

He replaced their fear with peace by being among them (19). Jesus’ means of entry into their locked room is not specified, so we are left to imagine how it happened.  The point is that He STOOD AMONG THEM.  He was with them again!

Surely His presence among them, say nothing of His sudden appearance, would have been startling to already nervous people.  To calm their fears, He pronounced PEACE to them for the first of two times in this passage.  This expression is often used in response to angelic visitations and other situations where a startled, fearful response would be understandable.

He replaced their fear with joy by confirming His identity and His still-human nature (20).  Jesus SHOWED THEM HIS HANDS AND SIDE: two of the three places where His body had been pierced during His crucifixion.  This allowed them to recognize Jesus as a man, not a ghost (see Luke 24:37-39).

We could paraphrase this verse to say, “The disciples were overjoyed when they saw He was the Lord.”  It was really Him!  A small part of their joy may’ve been relief that He wasn’t a ghost, but the major portion must have been that He was not dead.

He replaced their fear with peace by pronouncing peace to them (19+21).  Jesus blessed them with His peace a second time (a reminder of the peace He’d promised them in John 14:27).  Part of this PEACE was an assurance that their story was not over.  Quite the opposite, Jesus was sending them into the world as God the Father had sent Him. The commissioning we see here fits with Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 18, “AS YOU SENT ME INTO THE WORLD I HAVE SENT THEM INTO THE WORLD.”

At that time, this was a typical greeting in the Hebrew language; shalom alekem.  In a situation where they felt anything BUT peace, it was a familiar-sounding and calming blessing.  The fact that Jesus bid them PEACE twice supports the assumption that He appeared suddenly and miraculously among them, startling them.  As this is something people aren’t normally able to do, He also had to reassure them He was a man not a ghost.

He replaced their fear with the Holy Spirit by breathing on them (22).  They would go into the world to continue Jesus’ mission.  As He had, they would carry on under the power of the Holy Spirit.

The matter of Jesus’ breathing on them seems strange to us.  Consider the following:

The sight, sound, and feeling of Jesus’ breath were more proof that He had risen bodily from the dead.  Ghosts do not have breath.

In both the Hebrew and Greek languages, the word we translate as “spirit” can also be translated as “breath.”

Both of them are required for life but are invisible to the naked eye.

This action is meant to remind us of a couple Old Testament passages.  First, Genesis 2:7; how God created humans by breathing THE BREATH OF LIFE into the nostrils of the man He’d created from the dust of the earth.  Second, the vision of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37), where God breathed new life into the dead men’s bones.

We can understand Jesus’ action of breathing on them was a kind of demonstration, given the layers of meaning we have just noted.

He replaced their fear by delegating His authority to them (v. 23). As Jesus’ opponents acknowledged, only God has to power to forgive sins (for example, see Mark 2:7).  Jesus repeatedly exercised this power, demonstrating He was God as well as man.

In this verse He is delegating to His disciples the divine authority to forgive or withhold forgiveness.  The word FORGIVE literally means “to let go, to release.”  In this way it reminds us of the “binding and loosing” promise Jesus made in Matthew 16:19 and 18:18.

The resurrected Jesus replaced His disciples’ fear with peace, joy, the Holy Spirit, and authority.

A mother and her four-year-old daughter were preparing to retire for the night. The child was afraid of the dark. When the light was out, the child caught a glimpse of the moon outside the window. “Mother,” she asked, “is the moon God’s light?”

“Yes,” said the mother.

The next question was, “Will God put out His light and go to sleep?”

The mother replied, “No, my child, God never goes to sleep.”

Then out of the simplicity of a child’s faith, she said that which gave reassurance to the fearful mother, “Well, as long as God is awake, there is no sense both of us staying awake.”

<http://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/faith-to-sleep&gt;

Fear is one of the things Easter has done away with.  As we’ve seen this morning, fear has been defeated.  It no longer holds any mastery over us.  In Jesus Christ, our fear of death, in particular, has been put to rest.

The resurrected Jesus Christ relieves us of fear and replaces it with courage based on the peace, authority, joy, and Holy Spirit power.  Yes, fears still arise, but their voice rings false.  The world’s threats are empty.  Because we share in the Resurrection Day victory of Jesus, we shall overcome all our fears.

 

Resources

The Anchor Bible, Raymond E. Brown

Message #180

Zondervan Bible Commentary, David J. Ellis

Prayer that Wakes the Dead

Pray-First-1

Real prayer changes things.

          A visiting farmer stopped at a city restaurant to eat lunch. When he was served his food he bowed his head and gave thanks to the Lord. Some teenagers sitting at a nearby table noticed the farmer’s prayer and shouted, “Hey, pops, back where you come from does everybody pray before they eat?”

Their laughter was silenced when the unmoved farmer answered, “No, the hogs don’t.”

Prayer is appropriate before mealtime and any time we can turn to God.  Because we can see their effects sooner, we mistakenly think our own efforts are more important than prayer.  That’s exactly backwards.  We’ll learn this morning that prayer is partner with action.  We don’t pray and then wait around for something to magically fall from the sky: we pray and then proceed in the direction God points out to us.  Prayer precedes action; it does not replace it.

CONTEXT: You’d assume a book named “Kings” would be about kings, but this chapter is part of a section that centers on the prophet Elijah and his successor, Elisha.

SHUNEM was one of the cities given to the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:18). An early church leader named Eusebius said Shunem was five miles south of Mount Tabor, which was in the northern part of Israel, near Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. The name meant double resting-place, which is very appropriate to this account, as it was a place where Elisha received great hospitality from a woman of the village.

  1. The gifting of a child. (vs. 8-17)

The prophet was warmly welcomed in a prominent local woman’s home (8-10).  In that culture, hospitality was needed and expected, but this gal went the extra mile.  This is apparent in a couple ways.

First, she sought out Elisha and URGED HIM TO STAY FOR A MEAL.  This became a regular thing when the prophet was in the area.

Second, while a room on the roof may sound uncomfortable to us, it was one of the choice places at night when the heat of the day raised the interior temperature of the home.  The Shunnamite made sure the room was fully equipped.

In gratitude for her hospitality, Elisha offer to pull some strings to get her some unspecified favors.  This offer was met with polite refusal.  She showed independence in a deferential way proper to a woman in her culture.  In modern terms, she said, “No thank you, we country folk take care of our own.”

The prophet asked his servant, Gehazi, for advice.  He replied that the woman had not borne a son and as her husband was an old man, it was unlikely she ever would.  Since she is not called “barren” or “childless” we can assume she had only birthed daughters.  This culture valued sons as the inheritors of the father’s estate and a sign of God’s blessing.

From her reaction to Elisha’s pronouncement (16), we can infer she was disappointed about this.  Sometimes we can become so thoroughly disappointed we’re reluctant to allow ourselves even to have hope.  However, just as Elisha had predicted, she gave birth to a son about a year later.  Hope was realized.  A son was given.

  1. The re-gifting of the child. (vs. 18-37)

Something very tragic struck the child and he died (18-21).  Several years passed; enough time for the boy to become old enough to go be with his father and his workers at harvest time.  Suddenly he cried out with head pain and he was carried to his mother.  Imagine the tragic scene where the boy died, sitting on the lap of his mother.

The Shunammite woman sought out Elisha to either protest his death or see if the prophet might somehow save him (22-28).  This lady went into determined action immediately.  She laid her dead son out on the prophet’s bed and immediately left to find him. Elisha was at Mt. Carmel about 20 miles away.

When her husband asked why she was going to find Elisha, she did not even tell him their son was dead. His reference to a NEW MOON OR THE SABBATH were the usual times you’d want a prophet around, conducting a worship service.

Curiously, her reply was only, “It’s all right” (23), an English phrase translating the Hebrew word shalom.  As this is what she also said to Gehazi (26), it makes me think she think she wanted only to talk to the prophet.

The Shunammite woman’s emotions become plain when she finally sees the prophet.  Elisha can see for himself she was in BITTER DISTRESS, even though God gave him no insight into the reason for it.  She TOOK HOLD OF HIS FEET (27), a sign of surrender to his authority.  Her taking hold of the prophet’s feet reminds me of how the women took hold of Jesus’ feet at his Resurrection (MTW 28:9).  These were two extremely emotional situations as well.

Her BITTER DISTRESS was evident when she cried, “DID I ASK YOU FOR A SON, MY LORD?  DIDN’T I TELL YOU, ‘DON’T RAISE MY HOPES?’”  In effect, she is protesting the turn of events; “Why give me a son only to take him away?”

At first, Elisha tried to affect a resurrection by “remote control” but it didn’t work (29-31). This is a curiosity to me.  I don’t know why he sent the staff with his servant, instructing him to lay it on top of the boy, but there are three possible explanations.

First, in the Bible, inanimate objects are sometimes imbued with divine power, like Moses’ staff.  Elisha may have expected something similar to happen here.  In Acts 19:11-12 we read that cloths that Paul had touched cured illnesses and exorcised demons.

Second, it would keep them from burying the boy before they could get there: no one would dare to touch the prophet’s staff or move it off the body.  No one would dare touch the prophet’s staff.

Third, Gehazi was a kind of trainee or apprentice in the school of prophets, so this may have been on-the-job training.  This also explains why Elisha constantly spoke with the Shunammite through Gehazi.

However we understand Elisha’s reasoning, the boy’s mother was not having it.  She was entirely focused on Elisha as the cure.  She vowed she would not leave his side (30).  The text is not clear whether she was blaming him or had faith in him.  Whatever her motive, the woman and Elisha left for Shunem together.

Gehazi traveled to Shunem as quickly as he could, but Elisha and the woman went at a pace more reasonable to an older man.  The servant got there much sooner, attempted the instructed cure, and still had enough time to meet Elisha and the boy’s mother on the road to Shunem.  He reported the attempted cure failed: he got no response from the boy (31).  As “sleep” was a polite euphemism for death, he said, “THE BOY HAS NOT AWAKENED.”

When he went there to pray in person, God gave a miracle (32-37).  All three of them went to the rooftop room, but Elisha shut Gehazi and the mother out of the room.

Verse 33 is key to the passage.  Elisha PRAYED TO THE LORD.  All that follows is a product of prayer.  However, the prophet did not only pray, he did something.   Though some would look at Elisha’s actions to see if there is some medical explanation, some scientific reason why his laying atop the boy’s body would help him, they are missing the point.  These are symbolic actions.  Like circling around the city of Jericho, the action cannot be a cause of what happens.  The outcome is entirely up to God.

This account is very similar to Elijah restoring the son of a widow who lived in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24).  On that occasion, the prophet also laid atop the boy’s body.  Elisha may’ve been familiar with that account and attempted something similar.

I believe that occasionally God tests our obedience by requiring us to do things that don’t make sense in our earthly wisdom.  Elisha’s actions seem weird to us.  The strange action had to be repeated before the boy’s life was restored. Elijah had to do it THREE TIMES to restore the widow of Zarephath’s son!

The boy “awoke” with a sneezing fit (seven, the number of completeness) and opened his eyes.  You’d sneeze too if you awoke to find a bearded old prophet lying on top of you!

After expressing her gratitude, we read an understated account of the  touching reunion of mother and son in vs. 36-37, a great end to the story.  I probably should repeat this sermon on Mother’s Day!

Real prayer changes things.

This account perfectly illustrates the principle of prayer we want to take home with us.  When first confronted with the problem, the prophet Elisha didn’t want to have to do anything himself.  He attempted to have God do a miracle without any effort on his part.  We saw that didn’t work at all.

The prophet was face to face with a determined woman and that wasn’t going to be good enough for her.  She vowed she would not leave his side until he got off his fanny and went to her son.  After sending his servant with his staff in hand on a fast horse, the prophet himself reluctantly rode with the mother back to Shunem.

It was when he arrived that Elisha got involved.  The text tells us the first thing he did was pray to the LORD!  Then he went into action.  It was not his actions that restored the boy’s life; it was his attention to prayer and obedience to what God showed him.

What we learn about prayer here is encouraging: pray first then act.  Don’t wait until after you act and then have to plead with God to “bless your mess!”  Make prayer your priority and then see what God will do through you!

 

RESOURCES:

Expositor’s Bible Commentary, R.D. Patterson and Hermann J. Austel

The Daily Study Bible, A. Graeme Auld

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce (Ed.)

When Sleepers Wake

sleeper

Judgment follows this life, then eternity.

Please read Daniel 12:1-4 in your Bible.  I researched the NIV (1984) for this message.

In a poll taken in 2017, 69% of Americans said that death was a subject they generally avoided.  Not surprisingly, this means that the majority of Americans (72%) have no written plans.  Of the unprepared, the chief reason given for being unprepared is “Haven’t Got Around to It” (49%) with “Never Considered It” second at 27%.

(“Views and Experiences with End-of-Life Medical Care in the U.S.,”  https://www.kff.org/report-section/views-and-experiences-with-end-of-life-medical-care-in-the-us-findings/.)

The reality is that the mortality rate in America is 100%.  Everyone dies.  Death brings a lot of work for the survivors.  These are certainties.  So it certainly seems wise to be prepared and make surviving as easy as possible for our family members especially.

What is true in legal and social matters is also true in our spiritual life.  By faith we hope to be raised to eternal life after life in this world ends.  We take the first step of faith by accepting Jesus as our Savior and thereby gain heaven.  But our preparations for life after death do not stop there.  The way we live after that decision, the subsequent steps of faith (like baptism, for instance), and the life-long process of spiritual maturity also prepare us for eternal life.

Daniel received a vision of what lies beyond death and further, beyond the entire human race.  We’ll take a look at a small but essential part of that vision this morning.

Our passage begins with the words AT THAT TIME, referring back to 11:36-45, which describes a great war fought against the Kings of the North and South by an unnamed third king.  After a great conflict, this king will be defeated.  Our passage begins at the time following that conflict.

  1. What’s going to happen tomorrow? (1-2)

By “tomorrow” I refer to the end of time. In the Old Testament it is called the “Day of the Lord.”  In the New Testament it is called the “Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”  It will happen “tomorrow” in the sense that it is a future event, but the timing is uncertain.

Who is Michael?  Michael is also referred to as A GREAT PRINCE in 10:13+21 where an unidentified supernatural being (earlier visions – chapters 8+9 – name Gabriel as the messenger) said that Michael helped him resist THE PRINCE OF THE PERSIAN KINGDOM.  Daniel has two of four mentions of Michael in the entire Bible.  Here are the other two: in Jude 9 it is written that Michael was an ARCHANGEL who contended with the devil for the body of Moses.  In Revelation 12:7, Michael led angels in a heavenly battle against an ENORMOUS RED DRAGON.  In all four of these passages, Michael PROTECTS God’s people.  The word “protect” literally means “to stand beside.”  Picture a body guard or Secret Service agent who’s an angel!

After the great conflict of kings, the angel Michael WILL ARISE. ARISE is translated from the Hebrew word amad.  It meant to stand, be assigned, presented, or appointed.  It is almost exclusive to Daniel.

Michael’s appearance will be a signal event, beginning a time of greatest DISTRESS.  The word DISTRESS (Hebrew, sara) means “trouble, calamity, anguish, or hardship.”  The worst of times will precede the best of times.

This DISTRESS will be worse than anything experienced from THE BEGINNING OF NATIONS UNTIL THEN.  In terms of biblical history, the BEGINNING OF THE NATIONS can be traced back to Genesis 10, the accounting of nations composed of the three sons of Noah.  From that specific point in history until an undefined point in the future, Michael’s appearance will signal a stretch of unparalleled suffering.

Some interpreters want to harmonize this verse with the mention of a GREAT TRIBULATION in Revelation 7:14. Also; Jesus referred to a similar circumstance in MTW 24:21, using language very similar to Daniel’s.  These passages describe similar events but a linkage isn’t strictly necessary.  It’s enough for us at the moment to merely observe Daniel’s teaching.

The text doesn’t identify this DISTRESS as persecution.  Instead, it says only that Daniel’s PEOPLE will be DELIVERED from this time of DISTRESS.  It could be a world-wide problem.

This has been a lot of bad news, but here’s where the good news is found: in the promise of deliverance, made to EVERYONE WHOSE NAME IS FOUND WRITTEN IN THE BOOK.  This BOOK is linked to other Scriptures that mention a listing of persons who have eternal life (see EXS 32:33; PSS 69:28; MLI 3:16; LKE 10:20; PPS 4:3; HBS 12:22-23; RVN 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12+15; 21:27).  As you can see, the image of “The Book of Life” is one that enjoys solid biblical support.

The promise is that the enrolled WILL BE DELIVERED.  In this context, the deliverance is from the DISTRESS.  In Revelation 21:8, the promise goes further: those enlisted will be DELIVERED from the power of Satan and the “Second Death.”

As we have noted, the point of the passage is resurrection will precede judgment.  The angel said MULTITUDES will be involved.  In point of fact, all people will be resurrected to face God’s judgment; believers & unbelievers alike.

SLEEP is either a metaphor for death or for a period of unconsciousness between death and Judgment Day.  Take your pick of either interpretation; the biblical evidence is not as decisive as some want you to believe.  (In fact, in my experience, people who argue against an interim period of unconsciousness (aka “soul sleep”) do so with unnecessary vociferousness that makes me suspect their overreaction is based on their inner sense they are wrong.  Just saying.) Historically, we know Jews of this time believed in a period of unconsciousness between the moment of death and the Day of the Lord.

There will be a division of the sleepers when they awaken.  Jesus made this same prediction in John 5:28-29,

“DO NOT BE AMAZED AT THIS, FOR A TIME IS COMING WHEN ALL WHO ARE IN THEIR GRAVES WILL HEAR HIS VOICE AND COME OUT – THOSE WHO HAVE DONE GOOD WILL RISE TO LIVE, AND THOSE WHO HAVE DONE EVIL WILL RISE TO BE CONDEMNED.”

SOME of the sleepers will awaken to EVERLASTING LIFE.  This is a reference to heaven; living eternally with God and His people.

SOME will awaken to SHAME AND EVERLASTING CONTEMPT.  This is a reference to hell: final and complete separation from God.  In Revelation 20, the division is between those who are blessed with LIFE and those who suffer a SECOND DEATH.

The word EVERLASTING means exactly what you think it does – endless, even timeless.  God is forever in the present.  Those welcomed into His presence will join Him in that spiritual state.

  1. What do I need to do today? (3-4)

First, I need to BE WISE, because the reward for wisdom is shining LIKE THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE HEAVENS.  See Daniel 11:33-35, where this promise is described in more detail.  The word WISE meant to “observe carefully, instruct, act circumspectly.”

Second, I need to LEAD MANY TO RIGHTEOUSNESS, because the reward is to be LIKE THE STARS FOR EVER AND EVER.  The most important “fruit” or outcome or even proof a truly godly life is helping others to share our faith; making new disciples.  The angel even quantifies this fruit with the word MANY.  This word recommends ambition in our witness.  Counter to our unfortunate tendency to look after ourselves, Christianity is NOT a self-help group.  Like Jesus, we exist to serve, not to be served.

Note two important consistencies in these promises: They both elaborate on the eternal rewards given to those God judges to be true believers.  In both cases, the reward is to “shine brightly.”  This is a figure of speech for living praiseworthy lives.  We will shine with the reflected glory of God.

Daniel’s task was to CLOSE UP AND SEAL THE WORDS OF THE SCROLL.  (See also Daniel 8:26.)  What is on the SCROLL? Presumably, the words of this prophecy, even though at no time is Daniel commanded to write it down.  (This is contrary to Revelation 21:5 where John is told to write down God’s words and Revelation 22:10 where he is commanded to NOT seal up the words of the prophecy.)  It was to be closed and sealed UNTIL THE TIME OF THE END. Are we to connect this with the scroll in Revelation whose seven seals are broken open?

Why keep it closed and sealed?  We can make several observations here.

One,  in ancient times, the originals of all important documents were kept locked up.  Duplicates might be written out, but the originals were kept safely against the need to settle future disputes. The scribe who wrote out the record affixed his seal, as did the various witnesses.  These seals distinguished the original version from all copies.  Taking this into account, it seems most likely that the angel is commanding Daniel to keep the original version from all revision and corruption.  Only the revealed word of God in the words God inspired is sufficient information for our salvation.

Two, the cryptic phrase “MANY WILL GO HERE AND THERE TO INCREASE KNOWLEDGE” is offered as an explanation.  The phrase described repetitive motions, like a swimmer’s arms or harvesters gathering grain.  It is a figure of speech for people searching for knowledge of the future and spiritual things.  We might say, “They’re going to rush hither and yon to search for the truth.”  Closing and sealing the text prevents them from potentially misusing the message delivered to Daniel, as he holds the authorized copy safe.

Three, God’s purpose in closing and sealing may be found in vs. 9-10:

HE REPLIED, “GO YOUR WAY, DANIEL, BECAUSE THE WORDS ARE CLOSED UP AND SEALED UNTIL THE TIME OF THE END.  MANY WILL BE PURIFIED, SPOTLESS AND REFINED, BUT THE WICKED WILL CONTINUE TO BE WICKED.  NONE OF THE WICKED WILL UNDERSTAND, BUT THOSE WHO ARE WISE WILL UNDERSTAND.”

This is similar to Revelation 22:11, another angelic message;

“LET HIM WHO DOES WRONG CONTINUE TO DO WRONG; LET HIM WHO DOES RIGHT CONTINUE TO DO RIGHT; AND LET HIM WHO IS HOLY CONTINUE TO BE HOLY.”

Verses like these emphasize the rule of God over human free will and His foreknowledge of who will be saved.  It is a warning to continue to be faithful, even though there are people who will stubbornly deny God all the way to hell.  As 1 John 3:9 says, NO ONE WHO IS BORN OF GOD WILL CONTINUE TO SIN.  It is by faith and by the Holy Spirit that God’s word is understood.  This prophecy would be CLOSED to those who lack the faith to understand it, sealed against those who would deny its truthfulness.

Fourth, this statement is typical to apocalyptic literature.  A  reason for that may be to protect the identity of the writer until after his death.

Fifth, CLOSED and SEALED are figures of speech similar to Paul’s use of the word “mystery” to refer to something that was previously unknown.

Whatever CLOSED and SEALED is supposed to mean, we should not lose sight of the lesson made in this prophecy:

Judgment follows this life, then eternity.

Some Bible scholars over-simplify the Old Testament.  They say, for example, that the doctrines of resurrection and eternal life are not to be found in the OT or are dimmed.  (Other examples: JOB 14:11-14; 19:26; PSS 16:10-11; 17:15; 49:15; 73:23-24; ISH 25:8; 26:19: HSA 13:14.)  To be sure, the picture of the afterlife is not as clear in the OT as i/t NT.  For example, some Scriptures refer to the abode of the dead as Sheol, a place where ghostly versions of deceased folk (2SL 12:23; JOB 7:9; ECS 9:5+10) exist, but don’t really live, awaiting the Day of the Lord.  But this is one of many reasons we talk about the Bible being a “progressive revelation.”  That means that God revealed more and more of the truth as time progressed and as we read from Genesis to Revelation.

Perhaps you’d agree our passage today is as clear a reference to resurrection and eternal life as a person would hope to find anywhere in the Bible.  That’s why I felt lead to this passage, to affirm these two truths on All Saints Sunday.  Today of all days we need to have our hope for eternal life undergirded by what God’s messenger told Daniel.

 

A video version of this message may be seen on YouTube at “EBCSF.”

 

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Gleason L. Archer, Jr.

More Hard Sayings of the OT, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

The Daily Study Bible Series, D.S. Russell.

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!

What’s it Worth to You?

time is money

Please read Philippians 3:7-11 in your Bible before answering this question: “What’s it Worth to You?”

A pastor went to the hospital to visit a lady named Maggy, who was in the last stages of her life because of cancer.  She was heavily medicated and unresponsive, so he went to support her family, who was taking it hard.

When he got there, he was surprised to see the youngest daughter, Kimmy, putting lotion on her mother’s body, starting at her feet. The pastor recognized it as an expensive lotion and guessed it was more than she could afford.

As he walked in, Kimmy smiled and made him promise not to tell her children. Her kids gave it to her for Mother’s Day, since, in their words, “you never do anything for yourself, Mom.” As Kimmy put it on her mother, she remained unresponsive.

But this is the nature of a self-sacrificial love.  God knows and sees these acts. They are not unnoticed, but are precious and valuable in His sight. Acts like these put others first. They point us to Him.

https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-nickolas-kooi-stories-service-100035?+ref=TextIllustrationSerps

We live and die to attain eternal life.

  1. Spiritual maturity requires self-sacrifice.

We are blessed to have a number of biblical examples of heroic sacrifice.

“Father Abraham’s” sacrifice is dramatically recounted in Genesis 22.  As we learned recently-concluded study in the Wednesday morning Bible study group, God had promised to make Abraham into a great nation.  However, at age 100, he had no children.  So when Isaac, the son of promise, was born it seemed at last God’s promises had been fulfilled.  Try to imagine how devastated Abraham must have felt when God demanded Abraham sacrifice Isaac.  Abraham is credited as a hero of faith because he acted immediately and in complete obedience.  God spared Isaac’s life and fulfilled every promise.

John the Baptist’s act of self–sacrifice is recounted in John 3:30 where he makes one of the greatest but most brief statements of faith.  When one of his disciples complained that Jesus and His disciples were getting all the baptisms and attention, John replied, “HE MUST BECOME GREATER; I MUST BECOME LESS.”  John knew his role and he knew his place.  He selflessly sacrificed the spotlight to the One he had come to proclaim.

Remembered as “the Doubter,” Thomas showed courage, when Jesus could not be persuaded to stay away from Jerusalem where danger threatened.  In John 11:16, Thomas said to the other eleven disciples, “LET US ALSO GO, THAT WE MAY DIE WITH HIM.”  I grant you that Thomas’ courage faltered in the Garden of Gethsemane.  There he abandoned Jesus at the moment of His arrest.  But here and years later, Thomas was ready to sacrifice his life for Jesus

In John 13:37 Simon Peter is recorded as saying, “LORD, WHY CAN’T I FOLLOW YOU NOW?  I WILL LAY DOWN MY LIFE FOR YOU.” I grant you that Peter’s courage deserted him a few hours later when he three times denied even knowing Jesus.  Tradition tells us that years later, Peter refused to share His Lord’s form of death and asked to be crucified upside down.

Whether our sacrifices are heroic or mundane, we move from self-centeredness to self-sacrifice as we mature spiritually. Paul demonstrated great self-sacrifice in his attitude toward worldly things (7-8).  WHATEVER WAS TO MY PROFIT I NOW CONSIDER LOSS FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST.  I CONSIDER EVERYTHING A LOSS COMPARED TO THE SURPASSING GREATNESS OF KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD.  The words PROFIT and LOSS are key in vs. 7+8.

In vs. 4-6 Paul listed his reasons to have CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH.  – He recites his religious history as if it were important in order to prove that it isn’t.  He’s effectively saying, “If there was ever anyone who deserved salvation by satisfying the Law, I’d be the guy.”  His religious achievements and circumstances were the things others might see as “profiting” Paul.

In contrast, the word LOSS sums up the stuff Paul gave up in order to have faith in Christ instead.  The word PROFIT is actually in the plural form in the original language: “profits.”  But the word LOSS is singular.  It’s as if Paul dumped all his achievements and advantages into a single trash can and declared them together a LOSS.  In order to achieve his goals, Paul had to dump the junk that kept him from Jesus.

Paul was clearly thinking about Jesus when he wrote, FOR WHOSE SAKE I HAVE LOST ALL THINGS (8).  This statement elaborates on verse seven, explaining that Paul made this essential sacrifice for Jesus’ sake.  As he explained in 1 Corinthians 13:3, self-sacrifice not done in love is worthless.  Paul is establishing his sacrifice as worthwhile

The phrase I CONSIDER THEM RUBBISH (8) is a stronger condemnation than LOSS.  The word RUBBISH is a polite translation; the literal translation of Paul’s choice of Greek words is “dung.”  I was amused to see one commentary placed a picture of an outdoor latrine in the city of Philippi next to this verse.  A picture is worth a thousand words and conveys emotion pretty well too.

  1. Paul’s life goals evidence spiritual maturity.

Goal #1 = KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD (8).

Biblically, KNOWING is not just “book smarts,” but includes knowledge gained by experience.  Paul’s goal was to know Jesus by living with Him.  Daily living is supposed to be ongoing experiences of God at work in our lives, personal experiences of His presence.

Goal #2 = Receive true righteousness by FAITH (9).

True righteousness is both salvation and the godly lifestyle that goes with it.  It is not something we create ourselves or by keeping the Old Testament Law, it is something we receive from God by faith.

Paul’s desire was to be FOUND in Christ.  It is as if he is picturing Judgment Day and declares here his hope that his name will appear in the Book of Life, the list of those who are genuinely God’s people.

Goal #3 = Know the power of His RESURRECTION (10).

Jesus conquered death through the power of God the Father.  His Resurrection is the most important display of divine power.  This is not only a historic event, however, it is a power for living every day.

Goal #4 = THE FELLOWSHIP OF SHARING IN HIS SUFFERINGS, BECOMING LIKE HIM IN HIS DEATH (10).

I don’t often see t word FELLOWSHIP combined with suffering and DEATH.  This is another way of saying that Paul desired to FOUND in Christ.  Shared experiences (good and bad) are a form of FELLOWSHIP that can bond people together.  This is also true of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Without actually dying on a cross, how can we become like Jesus IN HIS DEATH?  In our living, we demonstrate the sacrificial purpose of Jesus’ death to help others find eternal life too.

Goal #5 = SOMEHOW, TO ATTAIN TO THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD (11).

The word SOMEHOW seems to imply Paul felt some uncertainty about whether he was saved or not.  My guess is he’s saying, “I can’t save myself, but SOMEHOW God can.”  Paul refers to the promise of eternal life as THE RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD.  Notice that is a singular event.

We live and die to attain eternal life.

          The Church in America has, for the last sixty years, become more about self-improve-ment than self-sacrifice.  We’ve gone from being crucified with Christ and dying to self, to settling for a “spiritual makeover.”  We are content with an appearance of godliness but miss t power because we won’t pay t price.

What is the price?  Jesus said, “IF ANYONE WOULD COME AFTER ME, HE MUST DENY HEIMSELF AND TAKE UP HIS CROSS DAILY AND FOLLOW ME.  FOR WHOEVER WANTS TO SAVE HIS LIFE WILL LOSE IT, BUT WHOEVER LOSES HIS LIFE FOR ME WILL SAVE IT.”  (Luke 9:23-24)

The question this morning is not whether or not you want to go to heaven: the question is, “What’s it worth to you to get there?”  A paradox of faith is that we cannot earn or buy our way into heaven and yet, it requires the sacrifice of everything, giving even life itself over to God and His direction.

Did Paul achieve these goals?  Not in this life, of course.  These goals are aimed at heaven, not the horizon.  As Paul wrote in verse twelve, NOT THAT I HAVE ALREADY OBTAINED ALL THIS, OR HAVE ALREADY BEEN MADE PERFECT, BUT I PRESS ON TO TAKE HOLD OF THAT FOR WHICH CHRIST JESUS TOOK HOLD OF ME.  In this life, God calls us to PRESS ON, even though we know the fulfillment of these goals lie beyond the reach of our earthly years.  We are to continue to obey, continue to grow, continue to mature as the years roll on.  This life is precious and not to be wasted on self-centeredness.  Instead, we are to spend our days investing in eternity by means of the sacrifices we make in love and in the name of Jesus Christ.

Why’d He Do It? To Fulfill Prophecy

(Please read LUKE 24:25-27 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I have cited the NIV in the following article.)

Jesus gave His life to keep God’s ancient promises.

“Professor Emeritus of Science at Westmont College, Peter Stoner, has calculated the probability of one man fulfilling the major prophecies made concerning the Messiah. The estimates were worked out by twelve different classes representing some 600 university students.

“The students carefully weighed all the factors, discussed each prophecy at length, and examined the various circumstances which might indicate that men had conspired together to fulfill a particular prophecy. They made their estimates conservative enough so that there was finally unanimous agreement even among the most skeptical students.

“However, Professor Stoner then took their estimates, and made them even more conservative. He also encouraged other skeptics or scientists to make their own estimates to see if his conclusions were more than fair. Finally, he submitted his figures for review to a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation. Upon examination, they verified that his calculations were dependable and accurate in regard to the scientific material presented (Peter Stoner, Science Speaks, Chicago: Moody Press, 1969, 4).

“After examining only eight different prophecies (Idem, 106), they conservatively estimated that the chance of one man fulfilling all eight prophecies was one in 10^17.

“To illustrate how large the number 10^17 IS (a figure with 17 zeros), Stoner gave this illustration :

If you mark one of ten tickets, and place all the tickets in a hat, and thoroughly stir them, and then ask a blindfolded man to draw one, his chance of getting the right ticket is one in ten. Suppose that we take 10^17 silver dollars and lay them on the face of Texas. They’ll cover all of the state two feet deep. Now mark one of these silver dollars and stir the whole mass thoroughly, all over the state. Blindfold a man and tell him that he can travel as far as he wishes, but he must pick up one silver dollar and say that this is the right one. What chance would he have of getting the right one? Just the same chance that the prophets would’ve had of writing these eight prophecies and having them all come true in any one man, from their day to the present time, providing they wrote them in their own wisdom (Idem, 106-107). “

<Retrieved from http://www.biblebelievers.org.au/radio034.htm on 3/17/16.>

We’ve spent the weeks of Lent looking at why Jesus surrendered His life on the cross.  Today we find out that He offered Himself because that was the will of God the Father, a decision that He revealed hundreds of years before Jesus was born.

We will learn that this fact helps establish the trustworthy character of God and the reliability of His self-revelation.  Here on this Palm Sunday we will see what the Bible tells us about Jesus Christ the King of Kings is a completely reliable witness.

  1. CONTEXT: Jesus explains His death after the fact.

WHEN? The afternoon of Resurrection Day.

WHO? Two followers of Jesus, Cleopas & his wife.

Their son Simeon would later be head of the Jerusalem church.

Elsewhere, one of Jesus’ female followers named Mary is said to be the wife of “Clopas.”  Pretty similar spelling – same guy?

WHERE?   Emmaus was seven miles northwest of Jerusalem.

HOW? Jesus journeyed with them.  In their culture it was not at all unusual for a teacher to take a walk or trips with their students as they taught.

WHY? They thought it was over; Jesus was dead.

They were leaving Jerusalem and returning home because they thought Jesus’ story concluded.

In the fashion of their culture, they invited the stranger in from the night to share food and shelter.  They probably wanted to hear more of His teaching.

WHAT? They did not understand the meaning of their recent experience.

Jesus appeared to them in disguised form so they would listen to His teaching.  He wanted to correct their misunderstanding.

Another purpose was to benefit all the people who would hear Cleopas and Mary’s testimony, including their son Simeon.

  1. COMMENT: Why this is so important.

While they didn’t recognize Him – probably because they didn’t recognize Him – Jesus taught them.  His teaching was to show one reason for His death and resurrection: that it was to keep all the promises God had made in the Scriptures.

He began by rebuking them as FOOLISH and SLOW OF HEART TO BELIEVE (25).  In the Bible, FOOLISH is a synonym for “unbeliever.”   They are people who perceive the world around them but do not understand it.  For example, the world says it is foolish to believe the Bible is true, Jesus said it is FOOLISH to not believe the Bible is true.

Jesus also rebuked them as being SLOW OF HEART or “dim-witted.”  They were slow to give up their worldly notions to find faith.  It’s significant that a portion of having faith is UNLEARNING what the world has taught us.  It is overcoming skepticism, superstition, and negativity.  Their slowness was in regard to believing ALL THAT THE PROPHETS HAVE SPOKEN (all the promises God made in the Old Testament portions of our Bibles).  One of those promises was that God’s Anointed (chosen) Servant, the CHRIST, would have to first SUFFER and after that, enter His GLORY (26).

It is a theme of this passage that Jesus turned the attention of His followers to the word of God.  V. 32 says He OPENED THE SCRIPTURES to them.  In vs. 44-48, Jesus had essentially this same conversation with the Twelve Disciples.  In v. 45 it is written, THEN HE OPENED THEIR MINDS SO THEY COULD UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES.  A college or seminary education is less important for understanding the Bible than having your mind opened to the truth by Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the Apostle Paul explained that a merely worldly mind cannot perceive spiritual things because that knowledge is revealed, not discovered.  It is revealed by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus EXPLAINED to them which parts of the Old Testament were prophecies of the Messiah and how He had fulfilled them.  No one has ever proven the Bible is wrong or at fault, though many have tried.  Instead, the Bible is the utterly reliable guide to our utterly trustworthy God, who will save us to the uttermost!  Both His suffering and His glorification had been predicted in the Scriptures.

All this had been promised in their Scriptures.  Jesus fulfilled more than 350 Old Testament predictions (v. 27)!  In Matthew 5:17, Jesus Himself said that His mission was not to “abolish” the Law and Prophets (what we call the Old Testament) but to “fulfill” them.  This was the mission of His life and His death and His resurrection

Here’s what Matthew meant when he used the word “fulfilled.”  “The Greek term for “fulfilled” is pleroo. The verb was used in the sense of “to fill” something, or “to be filled” (Acts 2:2; Romans 15:13). “Fulfill” was employed of bringing to completion something that had been pledged earlier (cf. Jeremiah 44:25). This is the sense of Old Testament prophecy.

“In the New Testament certain events are said to have occurred in order to fulfill prophecy. The thought is that the thing spoken in prophecy has now been accomplished, and in such passages the word “fulfill” is the practical equivalent of “accomplish,” “complete” (Young 1960, 232).

“J. H. Thayer identified the “fulfilled” texts in Matthew’s Gospel (as listed above)as “sayings, promises, prophecies, to bring to pass, ratify, accomplish” (1958, 518). Danker states it means “to bring to a designed end, fulfill a prophecy, an obligation, a promise . . . of the fulfillment of divine predictions or promises” (2000, 828-829), with the twelve Matthew passages listed. “

<Wayne Jackson, retrieved from https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1418-matthews-use-of-the-term-fulfilled on 3/17/16.>

Here’s how they reflected on it: “WERE NOT OUR HEARTS BURNING WITHIN US WHILE HE TALKED WITH US ON THE ROAD AND OPENED THE SCRIPTURES TO US? (v. 32)

The fact that God can be trusted to keep His promises is not just important, it is essential.  How could we trust our lives, let alone our eternity to anyone who is not trustworthy?  Trust is the foundation of all relationships, including our relationship with God.  The death and resurrection of Jesus confirmed all the promises of God and proved the reliability of His revelation in the Word of God.

Clark Harden wrote about a group of mountain climbers and what we can learn from their experience.

“There was a group of climbers who set out to scale a large mountain in Europe. The view boasted a breathtaking peak of snowcapped rocks.

“On clear days the crested point reigned as king on the horizon. Its white tip jutted into the blue sky inviting admiration and offering inspiration. On days like this the hikers made the greatest progress. The peak stood above them like a compelling goal. Eyes were called upward. The walk was brisk. The cooperation was unselfish. Though many, they climbed as one, all looking to the same summit.

“Yet on some days the peak of the mountain was hidden from view. The cloud covering would eclipse the crisp blueness with a drab, gray ceiling and block the vision of the mountaintop. On these days the climb became arduous. Eyes were downward and thoughts inward. The goal was forgotten. Tempers were short. Weariness was an uninvited companion. Complaints stung like thorns on the trail.

“We’re like that, aren’t we? As long as we can see our dream, as long as our goal is within eyesight, there is no mountain we can’t climb or summit we can’t scale. But take away our vision, block our view of the trail’s end, or ask us to walk awhile in faith, and the result is as discouraging as the journey.”

<From a message entitled, “The Road to Emmaus,” retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/the-road-to-emmaus-clark-harden-sermon-on-disciples-175034.asp on 3/18/16.>

Another benefit to Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy is that it provides evidence that substantiates the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible.  People react to this truth differently:

People who have faith don’t need it.  Faith exists on its own.  Evidence of the kind I offered in my introduction is inspiriting and vindicating, but it’s not strictly necessary.  True faith is circular; it provides its own reason and validates itself.

People who don’t have faith don’t want it.  I’ve done some reading lately by Jewish authors who want nothing to do with Jesus.  They reject any claims that He is the Messiah and offer persuasive, reasoned arguments against it.  I am not at all persuaded, but it’s clear they are.

It is good for us to study the Bible and the objective evidence that supports it.  But most will receive more benefit from a testimony that shows how it makes a difference in us.  The Bible can be approached and argued from all sides, but I rarely hear of people finding faith by losing an argument.

What happens more frequently is that people are convinced by genuine love and good behavior that is consistent with the faith we claim.  We are to prepare to give a good answer to anyone who questions our faith, but the most convincing answers are the ones we back up in everyday life.