The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: Jesus Christ (page 1 of 3)

Sunday

Dawn hadn’t yet broken the horizon when Mary Magdalene retraced her steps toward the tomb.  She had watched Joseph and Nicodemus bury her crucified Lord on Friday.  Still, she stepped carefully:  the gray darkness cast trees and rocks into unrecognizable shapes.

Her mind was blank with sadness too heavy to form thoughts.  It was the third day since his death.  Would the grief ever leave?  She peered ahead toward the new tomb.  With little light from the heavens—though there seemed an uncanny joy in the air—she thought the entrance-stone had been rolled away.  She quickened her pace and brushed at her eyes:  his tomb did stand open.

Panicked, she ran for Peter and John.  “They’ve taken the Lord from the tomb!  Where could they have put him?”, she blurted.  Her words propelled the sleepy men from the house.  Fear of authorities forgotten:  they ran through city streets, past Golgotha Hill, into the burial garden.  Who could have taken Jesus’ body?  And why?

John outran Peter.  He bent under the low tomb entrance, saw linen strips lying where Jesus’ body should have been.  Peter, panting past John now, pushed inside.  Linen burial strips and head cloth neatly laid aside.  But no body, just as Mary said.  Who?  Why?  And why leave burial cloths behind?  Bewildered, but with nothing to be done, they scrambled slowly from the empty tomb and walked away.  They spoke not a word to Mary who, by now, had returned.  What, after all, was to be said? Their Lord, humiliated by crucifixion, was now desecrated in death.

Mary wept, peering inside once more, as if a grieving look would return the corpse.  And the tomb wasn’t empty!  Two angels sat where Jesus’ body had lain.  “Woman, why are you crying?”  Between sobs, Mary replied:  “They’ve taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.”

The angels stayed silent, as if waiting for—what?  Mary turned from them then, sensing another presence behind her.  The gardener.  “Woman, why are you crying?”  The repeated question momentarily struck her as strange.  This was a burial ground.  People wept at such a place.  But quickly she dismissed the thought as tears fell.  “Who is it you are looking for?”

Maybe the gardener had moved Jesus’ body.  “If you took him away, sir, tell me where you’ve put him, and I’ll go get him.”

He told her of no place.  Instead, he spoke her name:  “Mary.”  Suddenly, a scene of him driving out seven demons from her flashed before her crying eyes.  And scenes of traveling the countryside with him and the other women as he forgave sinners, cleansed lepers, even–yes–raised the dead.

His voice.  It drew her toward him.  It transformed her mournful tears into breathtaking joy.  She reached for him, then, to hold on to him, to never let him go again.  He had been brutally crucified and sadly buried in a tomb.  But, his body hadn’t been cruelly taken from her.

He was alive!

Death was beaten.  The grave was empty.  Nothing was impossible now.

And Sunday’s sun broke the horizon.

 

 

 

 

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Friday

What thoughts slogged through their minds as the two men carefully lowered Jesus’ battered body from the bloody cross?

Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus, though secretly because he feared reprisal from the Jewish authorities.  So it demanded great courage—perhaps as a final act of open devotion he wished now he had taken before—to approach the Roman governor, Pilate, and ask permission to remove Jesus’ body.  Thus, Joseph came, grieving and guilty, for this final act of love.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, came also.  He had first approached Jesus at night, sure that this miracle-working teacher was from God.  Now, on Golgotha’s hill,  he neared the lifeless body of the one who had spoken mysteriously of a second birth by the Spirit. If only the Spirit would come now!  With him, Nicodemus dragged a hundred pounds of burial myrrh and aloes.

Joseph pulled a soldier’s ladder across the hard ground and leaned it on the cross beam.  Nicodemus found another and did the same on the beam’s other end.  They secured Jesus’ body to the cross with a rope, then set about prying the spikes to set his hands free.  His arms dropped harshly to his sides and his body sagged in death; but the rope held.  They wondered how agonizing his pain had been—not knowing the world’s sin had weighed infinitely more.

By the time they’d released his nailed feet, their tears fell freely.  How could men treat another man so cruelly?  How could the Redeemer—or so they had thought—be imprisoned by nails to die?  What might Pilate do now that he knew they were his followers?  What would happen to their dreams that had died with him?

By the time they were hoisting Jesus’ body down from the cross, clouds scurried over the horizon and blotted out the setting sun.  They recalled the earlier eerie darkness.  His cry—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—echoed again in their minds.  The men were sweating, but chills ran down their spines–as if they stood on ground desecrated by mankind’s sin and sanctified by God’s judgment.

A garden lay nearby.  In it awaited a new tomb in which no one had been laid. The men’s arms ached as their feet plodded with the full weight of their master’s body.  Heavier were their hearts.

Weeping was no more, replaced by a sadness that ran more deeply than tears.  They were determined to offer an act of love, as much as possible a burial fit for a king who had welcomed outcasts, forgave sinners, healed the sick, raised the already dead.

With hearts as dark as the approaching night, they tenderly washed his wounds, wishing with each stroke, they, like him, could heal them.  They applied the burial spices and wrapped his body in burial cloth.  He was prepared now.  But the men hesitated, dreading the final act.  Jesus had to be buried before sundown, but they delayed, hoping life lay hidden and he would awake.

But now, prodded by the disappearing sun, they bore his body inside the tomb.  Tears returned as they laid him in place.  Again they stilled, wanting to beg forgiveness for their fear, longing to express their undying devotion, though afraid to speak and ignorant of words.

Silently, then, they bent under the low entrance and stepped outside.  They must secure his tomb, protect his body, seal it as holy;but both dreaded closing him off to the realm of the dead.  Finally, both strode at once.  Grabbing the stone, they rolled it in place, sealing in their Lord to the death they loathed.

Quickly then, as quick as sorrow would allow, they turned and trod away.  Joseph and Nicodemus.  Two secret disciples who’d at the last openly proclaimed devotion.  Whose minds raced with nothing and with everything.  What, they feared, would happen now?

With the tomb fading behind, it was late Friday.  Sabbath was about to begin.  But could any day be the same again now that their master–and their hope–lay buried in the tomb?

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Leftist Religion: No Peace

P.AllanI’m astounded that the current administration in Washington seems to believe that getting America’s enemies to the diplomatic table will bring peace.  Just to be clear, I’m not making a political statement.  I’m not pro-war.  And I have no workable solution to bring world peace through human channels.

But this naiveté  of inherent human goodness totally ignores the reality of sin . . .

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God'”
( Romans 3:23).

Sin not only separates us from our Creator and his glory, it depraves human nature, including our mind.  Writing of Gentile sinners, Paul urges the church . . .

” . . . you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do in the futility of their minds.
They are darkened in their understanding,
alienated from the life of God,
because of
the ignorance that is in them
due to the hardness of their heart.”
(Ephesians 4:17,18).

That’s God’s word.  It means we cannot simply trust “the goodwill of man” when we sit at the bargaining table.  I don’t deny the need for diplomacy.  Sure, try to reason with people driven by hostile ideologies.  But we can’t assume that a signature on the bottom line certifies the agreement.

And that brings me to the importance of worldview.  In the latest edition of “National Review” online, Ben Shapiro writes . . .

Obama believes, as doctrinaire leftists do, that human beings do not derive meaning from ancient religious superstitions and deep-seated ideas about how the universe ought to operate. Given relief from material want and prevention of emotional distress, Obama believes, all human beings would get along just fine — and would then be free to cultivate themselves as they see fit.
Karl Marx wrote that “life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing, and many other things.” In this view, unhappiness derives from scarcity in these resources or from social relationships created to guarantee these primary needs for some at the expense of others. Religion, meanwhile, exists only to misdirect such unhappiness toward the cosmic rather than toward one’s fellow man. Hence Marx’s belief that abolition of religion is “the demand for their real happiness.”

(Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/436632/obama-trump-radical-islam?utm_source=NR&utm_medium=satemail&utm_campaign=June17shapiro)

This is “leftist religion.”  The replacement of “ancient religious superstitions” with a religious-like ideology that what we all really need is our “primary needs” supplied.  If we would only help our fellow man attain those provisions we would have world happiness and peace.  (ISIS reveals that worldview’s paucity when they aim to take over the world by slaughter!)

Our “leftist religionists” stop short of Marx who claimed “Religion . . . exists only to misdirect such unhappiness toward the cosmic rather than toward one’s fellow man.”  In other words, energy devoted to getting right with God should be directed to getting right with one another.  Today’s “leftists” allow for God, just not as Savior and Lord through his Son.  Leave him, please, to just “bless” us.

“Leftist religion” will never deliver, nor will diplomacy based on it.  God won’t be content to be merely a “blesser.”  He will be honored as God!  Belief in the inherent goodness of man, if only his primary needs are met, is blind and ignorant faith stemming from hard-hearted-ness toward God the Father of Jesus.  The world cannot be saved by mutual goodwill and understanding, because the foundation (man) is fallen.

This is why our only hope lies not in a new U.S. president or deal-making Congress or more talented diplomats or even the military’s overpowering force.  These are necessities for today—until the Peacemaker returns to Planet Earth . . .

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away
have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one
and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,
by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.
His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two,
thus making peace,
and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God
through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

He came and preached peace to you who were far away
and peace to those who were near.
For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
(Ephesians 2:13-18)

Now, until that day when Jesus comes to bring world peace,
drink in his Spirit of peace for your own soul
as you prayerfully listen to the video above. 

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Does God Really Exist?

P.AllanI mean God as revealed in the Bible.  The Triune God.  God the Father.  God the Son.  God the Holy Spirit.  Occasionally (thankfully not often!), especially when I’m hurting and he seems silent, I wonder if all this God-talk is just that—talk.  A creation of humans ages ago passed on from generation to generation until we have a “sacred book” all about him.  (Please tell me I’m not the only one who sometimes wonders if God is really there!)

On those occasions I return to three realities—two objective, one subjective.

First, the universe.

Random?  Chance?  When I see photos of the galaxies and read the intricacies of the human body, I shake my head and marvel at the naturalist.  I realize then that naturalism is an ideology, not science.  So much complexity, so much power, so much beauty.  The universe screams, “INTELLIGENT DESIGN!”.   And when I look at humans, when I listen to us communicate and love and, yes, even hate, I scream “PERSONAL INTELLIGENT DESIGNER!”  The jump from there to God is a mere step.  If God doesn’t exist, how then does the universe?  Because the universe exists, God does.  What I see, taste, touch, hear and smell isn’t just universe, it’s creation at the word of the Creator God the Father through the Son by means of the Spirit.  Yes, God really exists!

Second, Jesus’ resurrection.

He never really died?  Disciples stole the body?  Come on.  All such  theories on their face are laughable.  Twelve disciples suffered martyrdom (and God alone knows how many other believers) refusing to recant their testimony that crucified Jesus the Christ ROSE FROM THE DEAD.  As prophesied.  According to hundreds.  They laid down their lives rather than deny what they had seen with their own eyes and heard with their own ears.  Chuck Colson, now with Jesus, pointed out how hard it is to keep a conspiracy quiet.  Had the disciples stolen the body, somebody eventually would have snitched.  Besides, what happened to the body?  If Jesus did rise from the dead, he’s all he claimed to be.  The resurrection joyfully shouts, “God really exists”.

Third, the Holy Spirit in my spirit.

This is the subjective reality, a sense, a feeling, an inward witness.  John Piper talks about the Bible being self-authenticating.  That is, when I seriously read it, it authenticates itself.   Something tells my mind and heart that it’s truth.  I would call that “self-authenticating” power GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT.  He makes the written word “come alive” so I know it reveals reality.  The same is true when I quiet down to pray and deeply think.  There’s an inner sense that God is there.  He really exists.  I just know that I know.  The Bible and the Spirit tell me so.

I could mention more, but these are my three bottom-line realities when painful circumstances whisper to my rational mind, “Maybe God isn’t there after all.”  When I hit those bottom-line realities, I bounce back up.  All things, then, become possible.  Nothing is random or chance.  I’m not alone.  And no matter the circumstance, he wins in the end—and I do too, because I am his through faith in Jesus his Son, indwelt by his Spirit.

Francis Schaeffer memorably titled one of his books, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.  Yes, he is!

 

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He Will Hold Me Fast

P.AllanWhen faith is weak, when strength has ebbed, when temptation has won, when all hope seems gone, when death is near, here is a song to proclaim.  It will deepen our assurance and build up our faith and give us confidence that no one can snatch us out of our Good Shepherd’s hand (John 20:28).

The singers and musicians are the Norton Hall Band.  I found this video on Justin Taylor’s blog. Taylor  is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Targeting Christians

O PreacherThe park in Pakistan is a regular gathering place for Christian families on Easter Sunday.  Muslim families, too, in this majority-Muslim nation, flock there for fun.  Yesterday it became a place of exploding terror.

A suicide bomb killed at least 70 people.  Many more lie in critical condition.  Among the dead:  29 children.

“The target was Christians,” a faction [of the Taliban] spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said. “We want to send this message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that we have entered [the city of] Lahore.”.  So far, 14 of the dead have been identified as Christians.  The rest were Muslims.  Since Christians were targeted, I assume Muslims were merely collateral damage—unless the murdered weren’t the “right kind” of Muslim.

This comes only days after an airport-and subway-terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium that left 35 dead and nearly 300 wounded, four Americans among them.

I can’t begin to comprehend taking my children to a park on an Easter Sunday afternoon, when suddenly a bomb explodes and a raging fire seriously burns over 33 people and incinerates 70, including 29 children.  If I learned one of my children had been

Image: Pakistanis Hunt Militants Behind Blast That Killed at Least 70

burned to death, what would I do next?  What would I think?  How would I pray?  Where would I go?  How would I endure the pain of the next days?  Of the next months?  Would I hold on to my faith, knowing I and my dead child have no other hope but the Lord?  Or would I curse God and die?  Surely, were I to persevere through so dark a valley, it would be only by God’s grace.

I think of Jesus’ words . . .

“I have said this to you,
so that in me you may have peace.
In the world you face persecution.
But take courage; I have conquered the world.”
(John 16:33).

I’ve been warned.  And promised.  But could I possibly have peace and courage after that?  Perhaps God gives a special gift of faith for such evil days.

I think, too, of that unsettling passage in the Book of Revelation . . .

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar
the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God
and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice,
“How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true,
until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”
Then each of them was given a white robe,
and they were told to wait a little longer,
until the number of their fellow servants and brothers
who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
(Revelation 6:9-11).

I’m not a Revelation expert.  But three implications seem clear here.

One, the Sovereign Lord has a day when he will avenge the blood of his martyrs.  If I was a parent whose child burned to death yesterday, I would want revenge.  (I suppose I should call it “justice” to be more holy.)  I would be briefly angry at God.  I would be angry at President Obama for his nonchalant attitude toward terrorist attacks.  But eventually, by grace, I would put my hope for justice in the hands of the Sovereign Lord whose judgment day is coming.

Two, this world is not a friendly place for Christians.  It doesn’t seem so hostile to us in the U.S.  Even the persecution some have recently endured here (a baker forced out of business) is pretty mild compared to bombing innocents in a park.  For the most part, we can feel rather at home here.  That’s not only because persecution so far is little.  It’s also because we get co-opted by the culture , until the biggest difference between us and the world is we go to church on Sundays and read the Bible occasionally.  Reviewing violence in today’s world, I’m reminded it’s coming here.  With eight grandchildren whom I dearly love, I don’t even want to think that.  But how can I blind my eyes to what seems a blatantly fearful reality?  When you come down to it, we are really aliens and strangers in an unfriendly world (1 Peter 2:11).

Three, more committed Christians will be killed.  In the text above, the martyrs in heaven (!) are told they must wait a little longer for the Lord to avenge their blood “until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.”  More will be martyred.  There’s a number that God knows or perhaps has set.  Then his justice will prevail.

I sometimes wonder what professed Christians in America’s churches will do if terrorists show up here to target us.  Will our numbers sharply shrink?  I think, too, of those preachers who invite unbelievers to come to Jesus with promises of practically heaven on earth.  And of pastors who blithely welcome new members thoughtless about the day membership may make them a terrorist’s target.  And I wonder, too, if I would shut down my blog and become a closet Christian if terrorists targeted us here.

I hope I sound realistic, not pessimistic.  I’m concerned that our—and my—Christianity may be too weak to stand whatever tests may come.  So I write to remind us all—and me especially—that now is the time to prepare.  Today I must toughen up in my faith.  And I must remember, come what may, I’m on the winning side.  After all, our Sovereign Lord said . . .

“But take courage; I have conquered the world.”

Listen! This may help.  He’s “Overcome”!

 

 

 

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The House Is On Fire!

P.AllanSometimes the situation is so urgent, but . . . Well, listen to Bob Deffinbaugh’s story:

“Several years ago a friend of mine was working in his garage.
He was the kind of person who did not like to be interrupted
while engaged in a project.
Knowing this, his wife walked into the garage
and stood quietly at his side for several minutes,
waiting for the proper time to speak.
At last her husband looked up, the signal
that she was free to say what was on her mind.
Very calmly, and without a trace of panic, she said,
‘The house is on fire’”
(Galatians:  The Gospel and God’s Grace).

In the churches of Galatia (recently planted by Paul and Barnabas), “the house is on fire.”  Time to interrupt whatever’s going on and shout, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9).   But let’s go back and begin at the beginning.  (For a general introduction read theoldpreacher.com/circumcision-confrontation/ ).

Throughout Paul’s ministry, starting here in the Galatian churches of Psidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe, Paul was typically attacked on two fronts.  One, his authority as an apostle.  Two, the substance of his gospel.

With a succinct response to that two-front attack, Paul begins his letter . . .

Paul, an apostle– sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead– and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia:  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (1:1-5).

Apostolic Authority. 

Does Paul have it, or not?

“Paul, an apostle– sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead . . . ”

It’s an extravagant claim.  An apostle not sent by the first apostles or the Antioch church, but sent by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.  “God sent me” just a funny movie line today.

It’s also an extreme claim.  We no longer associate authority with God.  He’s a helper or moral guide, but certainly not the Sovereign.  Yet, when Paul refers to him as God who raised Jesus from the dead, he is pointing  us to the authority and power of God, even over death.

Consequently, the risen Christ declared . . .

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18)

Paul later wrote about . . .

” . . . the immeasurable greatness of his power . . .
that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and above every name that is named, not only in this age,
but also in the one to come.”
(Ephesians 1:19-21) 

And when the Lord sent his hesitant disciple Ananias to blind Saul, he told him . . .

” . . . he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name
before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”
(Acts 9:16).

This was Paul’s claim to authority.  Believe it or not.  Just remember this:  if Paul was right, all other claims are false.

Substantive Gospel.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (1:3-5).

Paul wastes no time getting to the heart of his Gospel.  Greeting the Galatians he identifies Jesus Christ as the one “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,  to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

That Christ “gave himself for our sins” implies we are sinners before the holy God.  We transgress his laws and disobey his commands.  It also implies a substitutionary sacrifice was possible and that the sacrifice was Jesus Christ.  No effort of ours–whether Jewish circumcision, Old Testament law-keeping, or any other credit-gaining work is needed.  The Gospel announces a most-costly, life-changing gift received by faith . . .

“I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live,
but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.”
(Galatians 2:20).

The purpose of Christ’s self-sacrifice extends far beyond sins-forgiven:  ” . . . to rescue us from the present evil age.”  This present age is “evil” because it’s under the dominion of “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) and so humans worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).  Because of this, God’s wrath is coming (Romans 2:5).  But, we who trust our lives to Christ, are rescued.

When I was about 15, some of my church buddies came to swim at the lake near my house.  Ernie and I swam out to a deep part of the lake.  Suddenly, he panicked.  Grabbed my neck and shoulders.  Smaller than him, I found myself trapped under his weight under water.  About then  the lifeguard showed up in a rowboat and dragged Ernie back to shore.  Apparently he though I could save myself; Ernie couldn’tSimilarly, we can’t do anything to rescue ourselves from sin and God’s wrath; we are rescued by Christ alone through faith alone.

Rescued from God’s wrath  to what?”  Eternal life in the new creation of the new age to come.  It’s an age that  began when Jesus was raised.  Already then, by the Holy Spirit,  we enjoy a  taste of it.  Already the new age has come by the Spirit, but not yet has it come fully.  Paul refers to this in 1 Corinthians 10:11 when he writes . . .

These things happened to them as example
and were written down as warnings for us,
on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.
(1 Corinthians 10:11)

[God]made us alive with Christ
even when we were dead in transgressions–

it is by grace you have been saved.
And God raised us up with Christ
and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,

 in order that in the coming ages
he might show the incomparable riches of his grace,

expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
(Ephesians 2:5-7).

House On Fire!

On this Good Friday, a cacophony of “other gospels” are babbled about—some secular, some religious, some even in Jesus’ name.  The biggest church in America preaches a false gospel.  The American Dream is the greatest—that’s a false gospel.  You can be anything you want to be is a false gospel.  Jesus forgives your sins but you have to do your part is a false gospel. Listen!  When ideas contrary to Christ subconsciously stick in our minds from mindless reruns, the “house is on fire.”  Get the fire out!

Good Friday.  Sin’s debt was paid.  Jesus endured God’s wrath due us.  “It is finished!” he said (John 19:30).  All that remained was resurrection, by which he would inaugurate the new age for new creatures.  That would come Sunday. 

 

it is finished jesus photo: It is FINISHED ItisFinished.jpg

 

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The Meaning of History

P.AllanMonday of Holy Week dawns.  Holy Week:  from Sunday when Jesus “triumphantly”  entered Jerusalem through Good Friday when Jesus was crucified, climaxing  Sunday when he rose from the dead.

The events of Holy Week happened in “the real world”.  Our world.  Here where we live. That’s such an elementary truth I often forget it.  This isn’t a once-upon-a-time-story.  It is  historical events recorded in writing.  Jesus entered a real city–Jerusalem–about 30 A.D.   He was nailed to a cross of wood from a real tree at a real crossroads just outside the city.  All the week’s events belong to authentic human history.  They’re not part of a hidden, spiritual revelation mysteriously whispered to one man in a desert.

They happened here.

Jesus came for all to see.  Breathed our air.  Walked on our dirt.  Touched our people.  Was buried in our tomb.  Rose again in the grayness of our pre-dawn.

Which brings me to the most-amazing thing I’m thinking about today:  all human history–including the history of Holy Week –has meaning It’s not just a pointless succession of events.  Of course, given the state of the world, one could be excused for assuming that.  Take politics, for example.  Another presidential election cycle.  “Unprecedented” say the pundits.  No.  We’ve had our share of “crazies” before.  Or take the Middle East.  Chaotically violent for as long as I can remember.  One war.  Then another war.  Then another.  Peace summits.  Peace meetings.  Nothing much changes.  Follow the news, read history and you know why Solomon (or whoever wrote Ecclesiastes) brooded,

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless'” (Ecclesiastes 1:1,2).

Was he right?  Is there no reason for life?  Does history have no purpose?  Was Holy Week nothing more than a collection of random events that ended with another Jew crucified, then rumored to have risen?

In his book, The Bible and the Future, Anthony Hoekema, a professor of systematic theology at Calvin Theological Seminary until his death in 1988, argued that history has meaning.  He explained that the Christian (biblical) view of history has five main features . . .

First, history is a working out of God’s purposes.  God works, not in some ethereal realm removed from this time-space world, but in history.  And he works to work out his purposes.  That means that the political and moral state of America at the moment is somehow the working out of God’s purposes.  It means that all the events of Holy Week from the triumphal entry to the tomb, and all the hostile debates with Jewish leaders in between, were also the working out of God’s purposes.

Second, God is the Lord of history.  This means God not only works in history to work out his purposes but in the same way he uses “bad” things for “good” to those who love him (Romans 8:28).  It means that God reigns over and governs history.  God’s kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19).  Hoekema writes, “God overrules even the evil deeds of men so as to make them serve his purpose.  No more breathtaking example of that exists than Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday.  The apostles prayed . . .

“Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles
and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy
servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power
and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27,28).

Third, Christ is the center of history.  History books are thick.  In fact, a complete history of the world would require, not a big book, but a library.  Think of all the dates and people and events you had to learn in just one history class!  Add to that all the other history classes.  Imagine every significant event that’s occurred from the beginning until now.  And the radical Christian claim is that Christ is the center of history.  Oscar Cullmann, a 20th century Lutheran theologian, wrote that in this central event “not only is all that goes before fulfilled but also all that is future is decided.”  Thus each event of Holy Week–even Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in an unknown upper room–was a main scene in the center of history.

Fourth, the new age has already been ushered in.  The Bible sees two ages:  the present age from creation until Christ’s return and the age to come from Christ’s return on into eternity.  In Colossians 1:13, Paul writes,

“He (Christ) has delivered us from the domain of darkness
(i.e., this present evil age–Galatians 1:4) and transferred us
to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption,
the forgiveness of sins.”

Already, we who have trusted our lives to Jesus Christ have started to enjoy a taste of the eternal kingdom in the age to come!  This is because Jesus in his person inaugurated the new age.  Jesus said . . .

” . . . the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21).

When Jesus died, he opened the way to the age to come.  And when he rose again, it rose on earth in him.

Fifth, all history is moving toward a goal:  the new heavens and the new earth.  God is taking this creation somewhere—to the new creation.  As Karl Lowith, a 20th century German philosopher, wrote, “The ultimate meaning of a transcendent purpose is focused in an expected future.  Such an expectation was most alive among the Hebrew prophets; it did not exist among the Greek philosophers.”  Jesus’ resurrection was eventually followed by his ascension.  And at his ascension two men in white robes stood by the apostles and said . . .

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven?
This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven,
will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”
(Acts 1:11).

This prompted Paul to write . . .

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time
are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.
. . . For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,
but because of him who subjected it,
in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption
and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
(Romans 8:18,20,21).

A flaming consequence of this Christian view of history:  HOPE!  Political progressives preach it.  Presidential candidates promise a better future.  Yet even high school history students know  that all human “progress” is marred with corruption, disappointment and death.  Our phones connect the Internet and deliver tons of information about ancient Greece or the latest hit movie.  But innocent civilians are still dying in Middle East wars.  We Jesus followers, however, “look forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:10).  Our hope is righteous and amazing beyond imagination (Ephesians 3:20,21).

Holy Week isn’t a commemoration of random events.  Holy Week has deep, transforming, eternal meaning.  Because of that, God is doing his saving work in the world today leading toward the fulfillment of his beyond-imagination purpose.  And when we see that purpose climaxed, we will bow and worship  . . .

The Lord of history.
The One in whom all history reaches its climax.
The Holy One before whom we stand in awe!

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Critical Council

O PreacherToday the majority of the world’s Christians live in South America, Africa, and Asia,   Nowhere is this global shift from the north and west more stunning than in Africa.  In 1900, less than 10% of Africans were Christians; today more than 50% are.  With this southward and eastward shift come changes.  For example, generally theology is more conservative and worship style more charismatic. The shift raises questions, too.  What is the role of ancestors in Christianity?  Can indigenous music be used in worship?  What about exorcising demons and ecstatic worship experiences?  (Source:
http://blogs.bu.edu/dscott/2011/04/27/the-southward-shift-in-christianity/),

And since communications have made the world “smaller”, what effect might this shift have on the shrinking church in Europe and the leveled-off church in America?

In 48 A.D. (15-18 years after Christ’s resurrection), the church faced a critical theological dispute due to the demographic shift of the church from entirely Jewish to mostly Gentile . . .

The Dispute.

From their missions trip, Paul and Barnabas had returned to the Antioch, Syria church.  There “they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). Then ” . . . some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'” (Acts 15:1).  At that, “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them” (Acts 15:2).  Unable to resolve the matter, the church appointed Paul and Barnabas and others to consult with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

The Danger.

For Paul, adding circumcision to faith in Christ was no small thing.  Circumcision signified one was taking on the obligation to keep the Mosaic (Old Testament) Law.  Here’s how Paul warned the Galatians (the people to whom he and Barnabas had just brought the gospel in Pisidian, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe).   “Look:  I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.  I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.  You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:2-4).

Earlier he had argued for justification by faith like this.   “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’ (from Habakkuk 2:4) . . . Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ –so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:11-14).

The danger, then, was the loss of the very heart of the Gospel–the loss of Christ himself as the way to justification (not guilty before God for one’s sin; being declared right with God) which comes through faith.

The Debate.

At the Council in Jerusalem the Christian Pharisees stated their position:  “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).  Peter explained the apostles’ view, illustrated by his own experience with Cornelius (Acts 10). “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.  He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.  Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?  No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15: 7-11).

When God gave Cornelius’ Gentile household the Holy Spirit, that signified he “made no distinction between” Gentiles and Jews.  Peter’s conclusion:  if the church now yoked Gentiles with the Jewish law they would be testing God.  Salvation for Jew and Gentile comes through the grace of the Lord Jesus and is received by faith alone!

The Decision.

Finally James, Jesus’ half-brother, chief elder and chair of the meeting, gave his conclusion.  “Brothers, listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God at first showed his concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for himself.  The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:  ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,  that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages.’  It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.  Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.  For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (Acts 15:13-21).

James understood Peter’s experience with Cornelius was a major event in God’s saving work. He referred to it as God “taking from the Gentiles a people for himself”, as God had done with Israel (Exodus 19:5).  He asserted that this Gentile inclusion fulfilled Amos’ prophecy from the Lord . . .

“After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,
that the remnant of men may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things,
that have been known for ages.”
(Acts 15:16.17)

According to James, “David’s tent” refers to Israel restored through Jesus Christ, so that God might begin his mission to the Gentiles through them.  Jews and Gentiles, without surrendering their ethnicity, become God’s one people through faith in Jesus Christ.  This has been God’s plan all along.

“Gather together and come; assemble,
you fugitives from the nations.
Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood,
who pray to gods that cannot save.
Declare what is to be, present it–
let them take counsel together.
Who foretold this long ago,
who declared it from the distant past?
Was it not I, the LORD?
And there is no God apart from me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none but me.
Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
my mouth has uttered in all integrity
a word that will not be revoked:
Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”
((Isaiah 45:20-23))

James also calls for four”abstentions” from the Gentile believers.  Three (“abstain from things polluted by idols . . . and from what has been strangled and from blood”) are intended to promote meal-fellowship between Gentile converts and Jewish Christians with their dietary laws.  The fourth (“abstain from sexual immorality”) addresses Jewish concerns about Gentile low ethical and moral standards.  But no surrender of their freedom in Christ is even implied.  Rather, these two ethnic groups as one people are to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

The Delivery.

James has the last word.  With that historical decision made, some men from the Jerusalem church are chosen to join Paul and Barnabas to communicate the council’s decision to Antioch.  When the people there received the letter they were “glad for its encouraging message” (Acts 15:31).  The visitors from Jerusalem eventually returned home.  “But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:36).

The Doctrine.

Salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone!  The Jerusalem Council “wrote that in stone” and today we must stand resolutely on it.  That doctrine is to die for.  We’ve got to fight for it against every ideology and erroneous theology that would allow us to add even the feeblest of our own efforts to God’s saving work finished in Christ.  That is the Good News!

However, not all issues carry that weight.  In the years that lie ahead, we can expect positions and practices from the churches in the Global South to influence us.  How we respond will call for divine discernment, not because those influences will be inherently wrong, but because they will be ethnically different.  A few we may reject, deeming them contrary to God’s Word.  Most, hopefully, we’ll accept, even if they are different, because we count them as enriching the one Body of Christ—and because God in Christ is calling people for the glory of his name “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

But whatever changes may come,
this refrain we must never change:
“Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”

 

 

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Level Ground at the Cross

O Preacher(Please play video at end.)  The existence of an organization like “Black Lives Matter” (http://blacklivesmatter.com/is only one indicator of America’s racial divide.  How can we ever bridge it?  If we think about it, we realize racial schism stems from a deeper divide–the one between us and God.  Today’s text, the fourth sermon in “The Acts Eight”, speaks to both.

Accompanied by fellow-believers from Joppa, along with Cornelius’ three
messengers, Peter has arrived at Caesarea.   The Roman centurion has invited
family and friends to hear what Peter has to say.  We should note that God
called this meeting.  Remember how he gave visions to Cornelius (Acts 10:3-6)
and Peter (Acts 10:10-16)?   (See theoldpreacher.com/visions?/He has orchestrated this unusual encounter.

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (10:34,35).

Peter admits he now understands his “zoo” vision.  God doesn’t play favorites.  We shouldn’t skim over Peter’s admission.  It’s as mind-blowing as a religious white supremacist realizing God accepts the loudest Black Lives Matter protester!  For long rabbis had taught what the Old Testament didn’t–that Gentiles (all non-Jews) were “unclean”.   On this day God is righting racism by the gospel of peace through Jesus Christ . . .

You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached . . . (10:36,37).

Peter knows Cornelius knows about current events, but he’ll review them anyway.

God sent a message to Israel . . .  The message is the good news of peace.  Peace here isn’t a serene feeling, but the state of reconciliation with God . . . God told this message of peace through Jesus Christ (that is, Jesus Messiah, God’s Anointed One, long-promised by the prophets) . . . Jesus Christ is Lord (Master, Ruler, Sovereign) of all.  He’s not a parochial deity:  he is Lord of all.  His gospel of peace is for Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the end of the earth (Acts 1:8).

Having summarized Jesus’ identity and message, Peter now turns to Jesus’ actions . . .

–how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.  “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree,  but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen– by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead (10:38-41).

Jesus clearly possessed power–power to do good and to heal people dominated by the devil.  The source of that power was God the Holy Spirit.  “We (the apostles)”, says Peter, “saw it all.”  Peter isn’t telling a passed-around story; he’s testifying to what he saw with his own eyes.  That included Jesus’ death at the hand of the Jews.  And–this is the heart of apostolic preaching–“God raised him from the dead . . . ”  God had previously chosen witnesses–those who ate and drank with him alive after the grave–so they could verify Jesus-in-the-flesh was back from the grave.

He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (10:36-43).

Peter sees himself (as do the other apostles) as a man under command:  To testify to a double-sided truth.  One, Jesus is the God-appointed judge of the living and the dead.  Everyone must stand in his courtroom and answer to him.  Every human who has  ever lived must give an account of himself/herself to the Risen Lord of All.

Two, (and here Peter points back to what the prophets told about Messiah):  “everyone who believes in [the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen] receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  This is the gospel of peace, the gospel of reconciliation with God.

The Holy Spirit Falls.

Peter gets no chance to lead his hearers in “the sinner’s prayer”.  Instead, God the Holy Spirit interrupts.  Why this extraordinary intervention?  Because these are Gentiles.  People counted “unclean” by the rabbis.  Romans who stand outside the promises of God.  But on this day in this house, a frontier has been crossed.  A Jew has preached the gospel of God’s peace through Jesus Christ to non-Jews.  And God wants to show his approval.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.  The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.  For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter said,  “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days (10:44-48).

* * *

The ground is level at the foot of the cross.  No one—regardless of race, gender or politics—is barred from coming to God through Jesus Christ’s gospel of peace.  And at the cross, everyone is the same.  Race is secondary.  Gender is secondary.  Politics are secondary.  Jesus Christ is all in all.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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