Thursday, December 31, 2020

To be continued

Mark 16:19-20 / Luke 24:50-53…

The gospels tell us of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, but this is not the whole story. This is why there is a sequel, and the book of Acts expands the Ascension narrative and tells the story of the work of Christ in the world through His church, empowered by the Spirit.

The amazing point of the Ascension is that Jesus, as a resurrected and glorified human, is in heaven. If in the Incarnation deity entered into the human race, in the Ascension humanity (joined with deity in one person) entered into the realm of God. The implications of this for you and me are incredible.

Redemption was purchased but the work of proclamation and application of those benefits was now beginning. The Ascension of Jesus Christ was central to the initiation and continuation of this work. While Jesus intercedes for us in heaven (Romans 8:34 / Hebrews 7:25 / 1 John 2:1), the Holy Spirit intercedes in our hearts (Romans 8:26-27), enriching and equipping the church (Acts 2:33 / John 16:7-14 / Ephesians 4:8-12).

The Ascension also creates in our hearts a sense of expectation (Acts 1:11). Jesus is the eternal Son of God, and now also the perfected and glorified man. This was the eternal plan of God before creation. God determined to create human beings, enable them to triumph over evil, and exalt them to glory. This was done in Christ. This is the glory of Christianity.

In Christ we now have access into the heavenly realm by faith (Ephesians 3:11-12 / Hebrews 4:14-16). But the future is even greater. He is preparing a place for us (John 14:1-3), and we will have glorious new bodies, free from sin (Philippians 3:20-21). Because He ascended, so will we (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We will stand in the presence of God, complete and perfect (1 Corinthians 15:51-58). He is glorified, and we will be glorified, glory to His name!

The truth is that the work of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is continuing on. If you are in Christ, so will you (Philippians 1:6); forever, amen. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The great submission

Matthew 28:18-20…

The fact is that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (cf. Ephesians 1:20-22). And so yes, we are called to baptize, and to teach, in the midst of everyone, and everywhere (cf. Revelation 5:9, 7:9). We are to be discipled and to disciple others.  The problem is that while we want our fire insurance (avoiding hell) and our retirement plan (the joys of heaven) what we really don’t want is our marching orders. We take the command and turn it into an appeal.

What we must realize is that this is not so much a command to produce converts, but to proclaim Christ. You see, we don’t make people believe, we make disciples of those who do. The principle command here is to disciple, and that is done by baptizing the converts and teaching them. And yes, that necessitates going in the first place.

The unbeliever needs Jesus, of course, but the command is not based on their needs, but on the authority of Christ. The first disciples were to go to all the nations, because Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth, and not merely in Israel. Therefore His church today must also bring the Gospel and His commands throughout the world. But you don’t have to go to another country to fulfill this command. You just have to be about God’s business where you are, and wherever you go.

And making disciples is not just some classroom activity. Certainly instruction is necessary. However, our principle duty is not simply scholastic. You are helping to make disciples, you are teaching people by living as a disciple among others.  A disciple is a model, a person whose whole life is evidence of God’s grace. It is a worshipful witness, living for Christ, winning others to Christ, and edifying our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Disciples share their faith (talk). Disciples spread their faith (walk). Disciples will disciple others.  We must use words, yes, but discipleship is not words alone, but love in deed and truth (1 John 3:18 / James 2:15-16). Many have dynamite words but firecracker works.

Our commission is based on His position, and this commission is the test of your submission. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The meeting on the mountain

Matthew 28:16-17…

Jesus had been telling people that He would meet them in Galilee (Matthew 28:10). Not knowing what was coming next might have made them wonder. Although the eleven are mentioned, it is probable that this is also the event where Jesus appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time (1 Corinthians 15:6). This would further explain why some were in doubt about what was going on, because they still hadn’t seen Him yet.

In the midst of our worship, we only pretend to others, or even ourselves, if we believe that we never have any doubt. Oh we believe all right, but no one has this thing all figured out, only God. Sometimes following Jesus seems a little scary. We have doubts about whether or not we are doing the right thing. Yes, we believe the testimony of others, but we need to see things for ourselves. When we get to where we are supposed to go, and when we see Jesus in the thing, we still have to have faith.

When we follow Jesus, and follow the leading of the Spirit, we will at times be led to a new mountaintop experience. We know we are supposed to be there. We know Jesus is supposed to show up. We know we are supposed to worship. But we don’t know why this is all so important. We don’t know what’s coming next. Not yet.

Have faith. Jesus is with you on your mountain, and He will be with you as He sends you into your valley. Just be obedient. Go, worship, and be ready to listen and learn. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

See yourself

Luke 24:44-49…

Then he opened their minds. The disciples were guilty of unbelief.  Still, there was a natural inability to understand the Scriptures which had to be removed (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14). Now Jesus helps them realize all that has been going on. He focuses on the persecution of Messiah, the proclamation of the gospel, and the promise of the Holy Spirit.

The rejection, suffering, death, and resurrection of Messiah was a prominent theme in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12). The faithful knew that the Lord Jesus would have to suffer (cf. Luke 2:34-35). Jesus had told the disciples this before (Luke 9:21-23, 44-45, 18:31-34).  God had ordained all of this, and Jesus was standing there as living proof of the plan. 

The fact that the gospel would be for all nations was actually part of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:3 / cf. Galatians 3:8-9). The prophets affirmed this promise of salvation for the Gentiles (Joel 2:28-32 / Haggai 2:3-9). The disciples would be worldwide witnesses for Christ.

But they were to wait for the power. The promise of the Holy Spirit was also something that had been prophesied (Isaiah 32:12-20, 44:1-5, 59:20-21 / Ezekiel 37:1-14, 39:29). Jesus had spoken of the Holy Spirit as comforter (John 14:16-17), as teacher (John 14:26), as a witness (John 15:26), and as One who would bring conviction (John 16:7-11), and revelation (John 16:12-15).

It was all part of the plan. Where God guides He provides. He has this thing all planned out. Ask God to open your mind and heart, so that you can see yourself included in the sweep of the Scriptures (Romans 8:28-39 / Ephesians 1:3-14).  

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The gospel truth

John 21:24-25…

John had been an eyewitness of these things, and what he was writing was the truth. We can know of the hope of eternity right now. We can share in the joy of the knowledge of the Son of God (1 John 1:1-3 / cf. 2 Peter 1:16). The truth is that the gospel gives fullness to our lives.

Think about how incredibly remarkable it must have been to have seen all of this and to have been personally, intimately involved with perfection in action for three whole years. Imagine, each little moment of each and every day, full of wonder, awe, majesty, and mystery, the miraculous movement of God Himself amongst you. No wonder John had such a hard time trying to fit even a tiny portion of the wonder of the Son of God into a few powerful pages. The full truth of the gospel is too much to contain in mere or many words.

Still, think of what it will be like to know fully this divine dream in reality, for all eternity, with perfect knowledge of what is happening as it occurs. Imagine being fully involved in it, with no chance for sinful reactions. And we will have all of eternity to chronicle our journey with Jesus.

Yet we won’t have to, we’ll just all live them together, forever. We will enjoy full knowledge, full experience, full participation, and full satisfaction. That’s the gospel truth.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Gut check

John 21:20-23…

Peter was probably already dead by the time John wrote this account. So what is the purpose? John tells us that it was to clear up a misconception. Jesus did not say that John would be alive at His return. He simply said that if it was His will that Peter die, while John lives, it was none of Peter’s business. Death is under our Lord’s sovereign control. It is not Peter’s business to raise questions about John’s death.

Before we pile on Peter, let’s be honest with ourselves. Isn’t this just how it is with all of us at times? We find out that in order to glorify God, we are going to have to endure some things we would rather not have to experience along the way. So what do we do? We look around for someone else to compare to. Usually it is someone else who is close to our own situation, and we ask, what about them? In other words, why do I have to go through this, if they don’t have to? This is our sinful, sanctimonious thought process, or flawed notion of fairness. Admit it.

Sometimes, when we see someone else get blessed, while we get burdened, it would seem that God doesn’t care about fair. It really gets to us when we put in more honest effort than the “lucky guy”. But isn’t this about our worship anyway? Or do we think God owes us something for doing what was just our duty to do (Luke 17:10)?

Certainly there are times when we should cry out to God for mercy, but we must do that in humility and gratefulness. Wherever God assigns you, and whatever God assigns to you, He will be with you. Stop worrying about the other guy. Jesus is going to do what is exactly right with you. He is going ahead of you into that very thing you think you shouldn’t have to go through, so take up your cross, and follow Him.  

Friday, December 25, 2020

The devotions of a pastor

John 21:15-19…

This text is not about Jesus rebuking Peter for his three denials, or establishing Peter as the first pope. Certainly Peter had a unique role in the founding of the church, but this passage is not about giving him the preeminence. What we do see are some principles about being a biblical pastor. When we care for the sheep that our Lord loves, we show our love for the Shepherd.

When Christ asked Peter about loving Him, this tells us that a pastor must have a devotion to Jesus. This is first and foremost. If the man loves Jesus he will lead, protect, and teach His Church. If he is faithful to Christ he will be faithful to His people.

When Jesus told Peter to feed His lambs, this tells us that a pastor must have a devotion to the Bible. The Bible must be his textbook. His central responsibility is to feed people the Word of God because it is what builds them up (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

When Jesus told Peter to tend my sheep, this tells us that a pastor must have a devotion to the people. Pastoral care must be a priority, whether it is visiting the home, visiting the sick, or just being available. It shouldn’t be something he just “delegates to the deacons”.

When Jesus told Peter to feed my sheep, this tells us that a pastor must have a devotion to the church. He will interact with the local community, but his priority is the local church (Ephesians 4:11-16).  Personal evangelism is important for him, but discipling is a must.

When Jesus told Peter to follow me, this tells us that a pastor must have a devotion to personal holiness.  He will be diligent in devotion, leading a godly life, one that is worthy to be emulated (cf. Philippians 3:17 / 1 Thessalonians 1:6 / 2 Thessalonians 3:9 / Hebrews 13:7).   

This isn’t about perfection; it is that a man should have all five of these criteria as the dominant direction in his life. These are some of the same things we should be concerned with for our own lives. One of the most important ways to be discerning as far as evaluating a pastor is concerned is by being diligent to pursue godliness ourselves (2 Peter 3:17-18). 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Still catching fish

John 21:1-14…

So the disciples had seen the risen Jesus, and they believed in Him, too. But now what? The idea of a Great Commission mandate had not fully taken hold of them yet. So Peter was not simply going out on a fishing trip to the Sea of Galilee (John 6:1). He was going back to work as a fisherman. Of course, Jesus shows up and changes the whole dynamic once again.

This scene reminds us of what had taken place about three years earlier, near the beginning of Peter’s relationship with Jesus, and most likely very near this same spot (Luke 5:1-11). After that episode these disciples left their fishing behind and followed Jesus full time, fishing for men.

Now here they were again, fishing, as they had before all this “Jesus stuff”. They knew Jesus was real, and He was resurrected, but they were still confused as to what to do. As it will, when we believe the truth but we don’t seem to have direction, the old life gives us that familiar call. Apparently, they had forgotten about the “real” fish. 

Now here comes Jesus to once again remind them of who He is and how He directs us. When they obey His word, they are again blessed with a bundle of fish. John seems to realize what was going on. And Peter, who had wanted to get away, now can’t wait to get near. Jesus feeds them, and then He would start to tell them about feeding others.

Whether we have a Sea of Galilee experience or not, every so often you will experience little bits of divine providence that remind you who the power is along the path. But when we start looking for direction on something we want, without fulfilling the direction we already have, that is when we are looking for the wrong fish. The truth is that we are all too often waiting on some “right now” word from God before we act. In doing so, we fail in our duty to be faithful to the definite direction given to us for our daily lives.

The resurrection has implications for how we are to live now, every day. It is not simply fire insurance or a retirement plan. It has application right now, to your life. Go catch some real fish.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The reason for writing

John 20:30-31…

Too often, we want more than the Bible seems to deliver. Sometimes, our answer is found with more diligent study. However, many have not realized that God grants us knowledge only on a need to know basis (Deuteronomy 29:29). It is our lack of faith that says to God that we must have more evidence if we are to believe Him and His Word. We have what we need for faith, but what we want is control of our circumstance, even if it means we stay in unbelief.

Charles Spurgeon once gave a sermon illustration about three fools. The first was the ship’s captain who, during a ferocious storm, decides to read an encyclopedia on the nature of Atlantic winds rather than fighting to keep his ship afloat. The second was the wounded soldier who asks the medic all kinds of questions about the gun that fired the bullet rather than asking the physician if he is able to heal him. The third was the religious person who is constantly arguing the subtle philosophical questions about the origin and nature of evil while ignoring the clear and certain truth that Christ’s blood is able to cleanse his sins (Hebrews 9:14). Spurgeon said all three fools had one thing in common: They trifle with subtleties while they ignore certainties.

This insight is as relevant today as it was back then. We have a tendency to miss out on the real meal while choking on the appetizers. This Gospel of John is for those who have never seen the risen Lord. John selected just a few of the many miraculous signs Jesus performed to demonstrate that Jesus is who He claimed to be. There was much more that could be said, but what was written was and is enough.

Don’t spend your time worrying about filling in all the blanks you have about the faith. You’ll learn as you go and grow along the way. The point is about knowing who God is and how to inherit eternal life. As John also wrote, I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).  

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Blessed in believing

John 20:24-29…

When the other disciples told Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them, he refused to believe. He insisted that before he would believe he would have to see Jesus with his own eyes, and examine for himself the wounds of Jesus from the crucifixion.  The others had not believed until they had seen Jesus for themselves, so Thomas was not asking for anything more than they got. 

Eight days later, Thomas got his wish. Jesus once again appears in their midst, despite the still locked doors. He repeats the word of peace He had given at their last meeting. Turning to Thomas, Jesus provides the evidence that Thomas had been looking for, challenging him to put away his unbelief.

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” He does not merely profess a belief that Jesus has risen from the dead. Thomas understands and believes in what the resurrection proved. Jesus was God, and He is Lord. Those eight days were worth the wait.

Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus is emphasizing the contrast between those who must see in order to believe, and those who will believe without seeing (1 Peter 1:8-9).

It has been nearly 2000 years since Jesus rose from the dead, and we have been waiting all that time for Him to return to Earth to gather His children. It will be worth the wait (2 Peter 3:9). If you believe the Truth you will know it, whether you see it or not (Romans 15:13).

Monday, December 21, 2020

Prophesying Pentecost

Mark 16:15-18…

The idea that these Jewish believers in Jesus would go to the Gentile nations to spread the faith was truly revolutionary. In commissioning them, Jesus tells them that signs would follow their preaching (Hebrews 2:3-4). These signs were fulfilled, as the book of Acts shows (Acts 2:41, 43, 5:15-16, 31-32, 16:18, 28:3-5, etc.). They were not intended to be some continuously manifesting evidence or a specific test of faith for today’s preachers or believers.

Jesus gave a thesis statement for the book of Acts in Acts 1:8. The work of tongues was foundational in the development of the church, in its inauguration and the sign of its spread. Jews (Acts 2), the hated, half-breed Samaritans (Acts 8), the Gentiles (Acts 10), and the disciples of John the Baptist, people in transitional period between the OT and the NT Church (Acts 19), all were included in the manifestation of unity and spread of the Gospel.

The tongues represented peoples and nations (cf. Revelation 7:9). The barriers between Jew and Gentile had been broken down (cf. Ephesians 2:11-22). All who believe in Jesus are one in Christ by the Spirit of God (Romans 12:5 / 1 Corinthians 6:17, 12:13). Peter, in Acts 2:17-18, shows us that not only are all people groups potentially included, but all gender, age, and social groups are as well. The point has been made; we are one body in Christ. The rest of the NT writing assumes and asserts that (cf. Colossians 1:6).

People back then and people today still ask what these signs and wonders Jesus was speaking of mean (Acts 2:12). The answer is clear (Acts 2:21 / Romans 10:13).  The only real wall between God and men is sin, and God in Christ has broken down all racial, gender, age, and social barriers to salvation (Colossians 3:11). The inauguration of the Great Commission at Pentecost is cause for celebration, the reason for missions. It is entirely ironic to create a new wall (that these signs must be present today) when it was the old wall that was being torn down.

What are we to do (Acts 2:37)? We are called to identify with Christ, ask for the forgiveness of your sins and be baptized because you believe that all those who trust in Jesus are given the Spirit of God, adopted into His family (Acts 2:38-39). That is the big picture here. 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The evidence of peace

Mark 16:14 / Luke 24:36-43 / John 20:19-23…

Amidst all of these reports of a stolen body, and the sightings of a risen Jesus, the disciples were meeting behind closed doors because they were still afraid of the Jewish leaders. Now it comes clear as to what has happened as Jesus suddenly appears to all those gathered. He speaks words of peace, but their response was fear (cf. Matthew 14:26). So Jesus proves that He isn’t some ghost by allowing them to examine His wounds and eating a meal with them.

Jesus then symbolically bestows the Holy Spirit upon them, pointing to Pentecost, when they would receive the Spirit and be empowered to fulfill the Great Commission (Acts 1:8). He had risen, and in returning to them He had spoken peace, which is associated with His presence. But He was going to ascend to the Father shortly. He wanted to remind them of what He had said earlier, about not leaving them alone. He would be physically gone, but the Spirit would abide with them and in them (John 14:16-19). He would leave them with a supernatural peace (John 14:27-28 / Philippians 4:7).

We need to know this today. The physical Jesus is not with us on earth, but the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is with all believers (1 Corinthians 6:17, 12:13). That is the evidence of peace (John 16:33 / Romans 5:1-5, 14:17, 15:13 / Galatians 5:22 / 2 Thessalonians 3:16). 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

How Jesus is known

Mark 16:13 / Luke 24:32-35…

They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?"  This isn’t some physical, mystical sign or experience we are supposed to be looking for as we read the Bible. These men were saying that upon reflection, it was obvious that they were with the Master.

These two had run back to tell of their experience, and found out that some of the others had also now come to believe. They had heard of the report of Peter, how he had actually seen Jesus. Now this report was further confirmation of the truth. Still, some were not as yet believing (Mark 16:13 / cf. Matthew 28:17).

Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. It was not the breaking of the bread, in and of itself, that was the key to the opening of the eyes of these two men. It was the work of the Spirit, who convinced the men of the meaning of the Scriptures and thus enabled them to see Christ for who He was.

Jesus could have identified Himself as the Lord to these two men, and then proceeded to teach them on the basis of His authority. As it turns out, Jesus taught them on the basis of the authority of the Scriptures. This is proof of the principle that the Word of God itself has power (Hebrews 4:12-13 / cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 / 2 Peter 1:4). Jesus taught that if people do not believe the Scriptures, no other sign will be enough (Luke 16:31).

The reason these two men, the other disciples, and all of us, view our circumstances with despair is because we do not view them from God’s point of view. We fail to discern our circumstances spiritually. When viewed biblically, everything that happens is a part of God’s plan. This included not only the suffering and death of Messiah, but also His resurrection. People need the Word of God if they are to recognize the hand of God in history, including their own.

Do you want to know Jesus Christ more intimately? Stop looking for a sign, and start looking in the Scriptures (Romans 10:17).  

Friday, December 18, 2020

Open the eyes of my heart

Luke 24:28-31…

He acted as if he were going farther. Jesus wanted to give them an opportunity to respond to what He had been teaching. Having been taught the truth about how the Messiah was supposed to suffer, would they now dismiss Him? Indeed not, they were actually hungry for more. So he went in to stay with them.

We spend our time either doing or trying to do what we are interested in. It’s the great principle of most people’s lives. Jesus won’t force himself on you, but if you are interested in the kingdom of God, He will stick around and you will get to know Him better. It is in that process that He reveals Himself to people (Hebrews 11:6).

You will often hear people talk about “sensing” the presence of God. Yet sometimes Jesus is there and we don’t even know it, until He reveals the condition of our hearts. Jesus can be right in front of you, walking with you and sitting down with you at every meal – and yet your eyes can be restrained from seeing Him. Pray that God would open your eyes to see Jesus as He is, with you all the time (Ephesians 1:16-21). Respond to His Word, and you will see His hand.

In the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation, that is the revelation we need the most. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The heart of Bible study

Luke 24:25-27…

We often think the main obstacles to belief are in the head, but they are actually in the heart. These men were like many in that day, their belief was selective. They did not want to believe that the Messiah was supposed to die. Jesus was telling them that while the Messiah would indeed be the Triumphant King, He must first be the Suffering Servant.

The prophets may not have fully understood all this, but they were guided by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). Their message about the coming Messiah was a mixture of suffering and glory (1 Peter 1:10-11).  The Messiah’s suffering was not just compatible with His glory, and it was not just the gateway to His glory. The suffering was itself a vital part of His glory. We see the worship in Heaven of the One who was slain (Revelation 1:17-18, 5:1-14).

The Jews of the day didn’t want to believe that the Messiah had to suffer, and they didn’t want to believe that they would have to suffer, either.  But it was the false prophets who spoke only of peace and prosperity. It was the true prophets who spoke of trials and suffering. Many are the same way today, thinking that when Jesus comes into your life that it will be only triumph and satisfaction, but that is simply not true (Philippians 1:29).

Jesus led them through the Old Testament, showing them that suffering and glory could not be separated in the prophecies pertaining to Messiah. Accordingly, it is the same path we will have to take if we follow Jesus (1 Peter 4:1-2). What a Bible study this must have been! And the lesson is one we must take to heart today as much as ever (1 Peter 4:12-14).

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The right sort of hope

Mark 16:12 / Luke 24:13-24…

Two of Jesus’ followers were on their way to Emmaus, discussing the things they had been hearing about. But the reports meant little to them, because they didn’t hear about anyone actually seeing Jesus yet. These men obviously didn’t believe Jesus had risen from the dead, because they were not on the way to Galilee to meet Him (Matthew 28:7 / Mark 16:7).

So Jesus came to them instead. He approached them along the way, but they didn’t yet know it was Him. When Jesus asks them about their discussion, they seem amazed that He had not heard about the news yet. Even in the days before electronic and digital media, even many centuries before the printing press, news like a resurrection was sure to spread fast. Of course, how people processed this news made a lot of difference as to how they responded.

As for these men, they were unbelieving, utterly defeated, giving up and going home. They had been disappointed, but it was because their hope was misguided. They expected a temporal triumph (he was the one to redeem Israel), in other words, freedom from Roman bondage. Yet their true hope was fulfilled in a greater way than they could have ever dreamed of, in other words, from the bondage of sin, death, and hell. They had wanted a political and social revolution. He was providing a spiritual revolution.

People often have a sad and hopeless reaction to the good news even today. That’s because they want a Jesus that isn’t really there. Jesus comes to us, but we don’t recognize Him because we are looking for someone else. It isn’t that Jesus lets people down. But our hope must be in who He is, not in our ideas about what we think He is supposed to do. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The evidence of the enemies

Matthew 28:11-15…

The Roman soldiers were supposed to guard the body of Jesus (Matthew 27:62-66). But the body was now gone, and they were in trouble. So some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. No doubt the soldiers feared for their lives, and surely they spoke of the earthquake, the angel, and how the stone had been rolled away. However, they did not report that the body had been stolen; only that it was no longer there.

This brought fear to the Sanhedrin, but it did not bring repentance and faith. They weren’t worried about whether this was true. They were only worried about losing their power over the people. So instead of investigating, they bribe the soldiers to say that the body had been stolen while they slept. The soldiers were also given assurances that Pilate would not give them trouble.

Of course this was ridiculous. The whole idea of the guard was to keep watch at all times. The group would work in shifts, with some watching while the others slept. No one could have stolen the body without a struggle. And if all the guards were asleep, how could they have confirmed that it was the disciples who stole Jesus’ body? Anyways, the disciples had disappeared when they came to arrest Jesus. They would be too afraid to take on a Roman guard now.

The story that the Sanhedrin concocted is so full of holes that it actually confirms the truth of the resurrection. The evidence of the enemies is some of the strongest evidence there is. The leaders were willing to lie for the sake of maintaining their power, and the soldiers were willing to lie for the sake of money and protection.

It’s a lot easier for the believer to believe the truth than it is for the unbeliever to deny the truth. But denying the resurrection is still prevalent to this day, because if the resurrection is true, it has unavoidable and eternal implications for people. Therefore people, despite evidence and experience, are willing to do anything to deny and lie about it.

Just as it was back then, their hearts are harder than the stone that had been rolled away.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Good morning Jesus

Matthew 28:8-10…

So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. These women were excited. They saw the angelic evidence, and heard the angelic announcement. Now they were obeying the angelic exhortation. 

And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!"  Mary Magdalene had met with Jesus on the way, and now it was their turn. Their response to this revelation was like Mary’s. And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. They didn’t want to let go.  

Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." Jesus’ response to the women was like what He said to Mary. He confirms the message given by the angel at the tomb. 

Often in our most intimate, joyful moments with God, we wish that we could just stay right where we are and never leave (cf. Matthew 17:2-4). But the truth is that we must have faith, we must move on from one scene to the next, trusting that Jesus is sending us to deliver the message. No matter how incredible and intense a worship experience is, there will come a time when that worship leads to work and witness. We can’t just continue to soak up without being sent out.

After all, we are not called to be monks, but missionaries.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

He knew her name

Mark 16:9-11 / John 20:10-18…

Then the disciples went back to their homes. While Peter and John left the scene, Mary stayed behind, weeping outside the tomb. Looking inside she saw two angels, who asked her why she was crying. Mary had assumed that Jesus was still dead, His body had been stolen, and that she wouldn’t be able to find it. The truth was that Jesus was very much alive.

Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Even after Jesus speaks to her, asking her why she was crying, and who she was looking for, she doesn’t realize it is Him.  Perhaps this was because the last image she had was of Him being beaten, bloody, and broken (Isaiah 52:14).

Jesus said to her, "Mary." Now she knew who was speaking to her! It wasn’t a case of “seeing is believing”, and even hearing Jesus speak didn’t seem to be enough. It was when Jesus addressed Mary as a loved one that her soul was enlightened. When we encounter a personal, loving Savior, this is when our tears of sorrow turn into tears of joy.

Do not cling to me…Mary obviously got excited. Now Jesus was not trying to prevent Mary from touching Him (cf. John 20:27). He was making it clear that He would be returning to His Father. Clinging to Him wouldn’t prevent His departure.

I have seen the Lord. Mary goes to report her encounter with Jesus to the disciples, as they mourned and wept, but they don’t believe her. People can tell you about Jesus and about their personal experience with Him. Those things are necessary and wonderful. But the truth is that people need their own personal encounter with Christ.

Knowing that He knows and loves us, personally, is what turns our weeping into witnessing.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The setting tells the story

Luke 24:12 / John 20:3-9…

Peter and John (“the other disciple”) both go to the tomb to investigate what they had been told. When they arrive on the scene, they found that the tomb was empty and the grave clothes were vacant. They do not see Jesus there. Peter wonders what has happened, but John believes Jesus has risen, even before he had realized that he was supposed to.

Jesus had foretold of His resurrection, but amidst all the sorrow the disciples were not putting the pieces together, for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. The truth is that John saw the evidence, and drew the right conclusion. 

One important piece of evidence was the folded face cloth, or napkin. Apparently, Jesus had taken His own sweet time in exiting the tomb. The face cloth was not simply wadded up, or thrown away, but instead it was arranged in an orderly fashion. This was evidence that Jesus was in no hurry.  He was in full control of the situation. 

The folded face cloth stands in the way of false claims. If someone stole the body, why would they take the time to remove the grave clothes and fold the napkin neatly in another place? If Jesus had not actually died, but only fainted from the torture, why would such a beaten and bloody man take the time to care for the neatness of the place before he supposedly snuck out of the grave and away from the guards?

The truth was as John had realized it. The setting told the story. Jesus had risen.  

Friday, December 11, 2020

Dare to share

Luke 24:8-11 / John 20:2…

Mary Magdalene and the other women had found the empty tomb, but while Mary ran off to tell the disciples that the body might have been stolen (John 20:2), the other women are told by the angels that Jesus has risen (Luke 24:4-7). The other women were too afraid to say anything at first (Mark 16:8). But their joy overcame their fear, and they tell the disciples. But the disciples do not believe their story (Luke 24:8-11).

Have you ever made some discovery, and you were so excited about it that you just had to run and tell somebody? How many times did the person on the other end get as excited as you about it? Yeah, we’ve all been there, where they just don’t have the same reaction. Well, what can you expect? Hearing it from someone else isn’t the same as having been there.

Your witness, your testimony, your evangelism are important. But many times, no matter what you say, people are reluctant to take it as anything other than mere enthusiasm. They might even think you’re delusional. That doesn’t make sharing your faith and giving testimony any less vital. Evangelism, apologetics, whatever the endeavor, it is all part of a process (1 Corinthians 3:6). 

Think about it. The Holy Spirit draws people to Christ. Drawing means it takes time, like pulling up water from a well. Most won’t be as excited about Jesus as you are. Even Christians might not be as excited as you are about a passage of scripture or some spiritual experience you had. Share it anyway (Philemon 1:6). It’s all part of the experience God uses to draw them closer to Him.  

Thursday, December 10, 2020

A powerful encounter

Matthew 28:1-7 / Mark 16:1-8 / Luke 24:1-7 / John 20:1…

In this passage, we see God building a sure foundation for the faith of believers. These dear women, who loved Jesus, were still having a hard time believing that His words about rising from the dead would be literally fulfilled. This is why they were bringing spices to anoint the body, and wondering who would roll away the stone for them.

Still, among the followers of Jesus, these women were the last to leave the cross, and the first to see the tomb. Although they didn’t as yet believe, their courage and commitment led them to go to the burial site. As they make their way, they encounter several signs of God’s victory.

First, an angel causes an earthquake, rolls back the stone covering the tomb, and sits on it. The stone wasn’t moved so that Jesus could get out; it was moved so the disciples could get in. These women would be able to see the empty tomb for themselves. Christ is victorious over death.

Then the women actually see this angel in a glorified state. This terrifying sight causes the guards to pass out in fear. Both the women and the guards witness the same evidence, but they have different reactions. It depends on your commitments. For those who are against God, the truth is actually a terror. Christ is victorious over His enemies.

The angel speaks a word of comfort (do not be afraid), makes an important announcement (He has risen), and gives a vital exhortation (go quickly and tell). The women were the first to see the signs and became the first evangelists. God is victorious over unbelief.

This is the pattern of God’s victory over you. When we first encounter God’s presence and power, we are most often frightened by the experience. But through His Word, God comforts us with His love, convicts us with His truth, and then commissions us with His message.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Guarding the evidence

Matthew 27:62-66…

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate. Jesus was dead, but the religious leaders were still afraid of Him. They were willing to do anything to put a stop to people believing in Him. The day before, they would not enter Pilate’s palace, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover (John 18:28).  But now they broke their own law by entering into a Gentile dwelling on the Sabbath.

Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise.'  Now they also change their story, admitting their deceitfulness. During Jesus’ trial, they had used Jesus’ words to say that He was talking about tearing down the temple building.  Yet they knew all along that Jesus was not talking about tearing the temple down. They knew He was talking about dying and being raised again the third day (Matthew 12:40). 

Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day. They were afraid that the disciples would fabricate a resurrection to keep the movement alive. Of course the disciples had no such thought at all (John 20:9), even though Jesus had mentioned it many times (Matthew 16:21, 17:23, 20:18-19 / Mark 9:9-10). The religious leaders convince Pilate that if Jesus was a problem before, when the people had believed He was the Messiah, it would be much worse if people thought He had risen from the dead.

So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. By placing the Roman seal on the stone, it would be known if anyone had tampered with the tomb. Ironically, by making sure that there was no way that anyone could steal the body, they actually provided additional witness to the fact that the resurrection wasn’t a fake. The enemies of Jesus guarded the evidence! Indeed, God uses the wrath of men to praise Him (Psalm 76:10).

Think about it. God had all these details worked out, in the midst of all this hardship and hatred, this darkness and deceit. Doesn’t it make sense that you can trust Him with your details, no matter who is against you, and no matter how dark it seems right now (Romans 8:28-31)? 

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Secret no more

Matthew 27:57-61 / Mark 15:42-47 / Luke 23:50-56 / John 19:38-42…

In His burial, Jesus would be fulfilling prophecy. Even though He was counted as a criminal, He would be buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9). In facilitating this, Joseph of Arimathea, who, like Nicodemus, was a “secret disciple” of Jesus, was now out in the open and would soon be ousted from the religious elite. His love for his Lord compelled him out of hiding. 

Nicodemus was also “buried” that day. His old life was gone. His spiritual growth parallels that of many believers. As we see him developed in the scriptures, first he was being drawn, then he was being challenged, and finally, here, he was being bold. We can trace the grace in Nicodemus’ life, as he grows from curious (John 3:1-5) to courageous (John 7:32, 44-52) to crucified (John 19:38-42 / cf. Galatians 2:20, 6:14).

Nicodemus’ love for Christ grew, and he showed the most love for Jesus after He had died. He had received grace and was willing to give graciously even though he would be opening himself up to losing his means. Nicodemus was a prominent man but he was willing to take a risk, and then appear foolish to his peers, and then even to lose it all for the sake of Christ.

Having finally died to his old life, it is easy to imagine that Nicodemus was one of the 120 in the upper room, waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:15). His faith was out in the open, no longer a secret.

How about you? Are you still in the secret stage? Remember, if you are truly growing in grace, the secret will eventually get out. 

Monday, December 07, 2020

Blood and water

John 19:31-37…

The Jews had to be “done” with this crucifixion before evening so that they could observe the Sabbath on time. The Romans would often leave the bodies of those crucified exposed for some time, to serve as a warning to all. But in this case, the Jews wanted the men to die more quickly than normal so that their bodies could be taken down (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

The Romans had a procedure for this. They would use a large hammer to crush the victims’ legs, making it impossible for those crucified to push up in order to facilitate the breathing process. Once their leg bones were broken, the victims would die within a short time. But when they came to Jesus, it was apparent that He was already dead. There was no need to break His legs.

Once again, the things which were taking place were the very things God had prophesied.  Everything was truly going according to God’s plan, and in spite of the Jews’ request. Perhaps at a whim, one soldier thrusts his spear into the Savior’s side. The result is that two prophecies are fulfilled in one stroke. The legs of Jesus, the Lamb of God (John 1:29), are not broken (Exodus 12:46 / Numbers 9:12 / Psalm 34:20), and the side of Jesus is pierced (Zechariah 12:10).

Jesus was a real human, not some type of ghost (1 John 4:2, 5:6). He did not just “swoon” that day. He really died that day. But even in death, our Lord perfectly fulfilled the Scriptures. 

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Women of worth

Matthew 27:55-56 / Mark 15:40-41 / Luke 23:49…

Here they are, these women who had helped support the ministry of Jesus, with Him until the very end. They followed Him all the way to the cross. As everyone else ran away they continued to draw near. The people of the day marginalized them as insignificant, but the Word of God marks them as entirely significant, even naming their names. 

In our day, many of the “name” people, those who seem to have access to titles and achieve the tributes, run away scared when Jesus may cost them their position in life or standard of living. Some “celebrities” won’t get their hands dirty, while the meek and lowly will rise up and fill the void. This proves a point about whom God actually uses (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

The world, even the church world, may try and marginalize you for your gender, race, age, social status, educational background, or any other of a number of things, but Jesus doesn’t do that at all (Acts 2:17-18). In Christ, the barriers to drawing close to God have been broken down (Ephesians 2:11-22). When everyone else seems to run away, you can run ahead (James 4:7-8).

You don’t have to let others limit you. Certainly, they may mock your credentials, they may put you at the back of the building, and they may dismiss your devotion. But you don’t need their permission or endorsement. You don’t have to have a seat at their table to find a place at the Throne. You can draw near to God without fear, and with faith (Hebrews 4:16, 10:22).

Don’t worry about being noticed by others. Your worship is worth it to God. 

Saturday, December 05, 2020

It is finished…so get with it

John 19:28-30…

On the cross, at the end, Jesus cried out “it is finished”. What was finished? Sure, we know it was the crucifixion of Jesus that was finished. However, not everything was completely finished; Jesus was going to rise from the dead, ascend to heaven and will be coming again. So let’s unpack this; what did the crucifixion of Christ finish? And now that it is finished, what is God calling you to do? What are the things we don’t want to miss? We can rest in these things as we receive them. It is finished, so get with it.

It is finished – The sinless life that fulfilled all of the Law (Matthew 5:17, 48 / Hebrews 4:15)
So get with it – Romans 10:4 – you can go to God in the name of Christ (Hebrews 4:16)

It is finished – The words of the prophets that had to be fulfilled (Acts 2:23-24, 3:17-18)
So get with it – Romans 8:28-30 – God’s plan for you will be fulfilled (Philippians 1:6)

It is finished – The conflict with the leaders and the people (Acts 4:27-28 / 1 Corinthians 2:8)
So get with it – Romans 8:31-39 – God is on your side (Romans 5:1-11)

It is finished – The plan that was foreshadowed in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15)
So get with it – Ephesians 1:3-9 – you are in the paradise parade (2 Corinthians 2:14)

It is finished – The plan that was pictured in the sacrificial system (Hebrews 10:1-14)
So get with it – Galatians 5:1 – you can please God (Romans 12:1 / Hebrews 13:15-16)

It is finished – The atoning work for sin (Isaiah 53:5-7 / Acts 8:32)
So get with it – 1 Peter 3:18 – you can have forgiveness and fellowship (1 John 1:8-10)

It is finished – The wrath of God has been satisfied (Isaiah 53:10-12 / Luke 22:37)
So get with it – 2 Corinthians 5:21 – you don’t have to fear (Hebrews 2:14-15, 13:5-6)

It is finished – The triumph over the evil powers (Colossians 2:13-15)
So get with it – Romans 8:1 – you can tell the devil to “talk to the hand” (Isaiah 49:16)

It is finished – The vindication of God’s justice (Romans 3:23-26)
So get with it – 1 Peter 4:12-19 – you can trust God will sort everything out (1 Peter 2:21-25)

It is finished – The validation of God’s love (John 3:16 / 1 John 4:10)
So get with it – 1 John 4:11 – you can love (Matthew 22:37-40 / Romans 13:8 / Galatians 5:14)

On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He lived your life so He could treat you as if you lived His life. That’s the Gospel, but now it is your turn to finish (Romans 10:9-13), so get with it (Matthew 10:32), before it is too late (Hebrews 9:27-28).

Friday, December 04, 2020

Paid in full, not paid in hell

Luke 23:44-48…

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” These words of Jesus were used to fulfill the prophecy of Psalm 31:5. Jesus had laid down His life voluntarily, when He wanted to and how He wanted to (John 10:18), which we know was in accordance with the Father’s will. He suffered the wrath of God for us on the cross.

There is a sinister teaching out there that says that Jesus, before His resurrection, while He was in the tomb, was actually suffering at the hands of demonic forces in hell, paying the price for our sins there, not having finished the matter on the cross. That is blasphemy. Jesus didn’t suffer additional torment in hell at the hands of demons (Psalm 16:10 / Acts 2:27). He had control over His own spirit, and after the Father had poured out His wrath upon our Lord, Jesus suffered no additional punishment. The Father crushed His soul, not Satan (Isaiah 53:10-11). The cry of John 19:30, it is finished, is a victory cry. Christ meant what He had said; the price for redemption was paid in full at Calvary.

This brings up another point. Have you ever seen pictures, cartoons, comics or other depictions of people in hell with Satan ruling, and demons tormenting them? This isn’t what the Bible depicts hell as being like. Demons will not be tormenting people in hell; it is God who will be punishing the wicked. The devil and his angels are going to be tormented themselves, not allowed to assist in tormenting others (Matthew 25:41 / 2 Peter 2:4). Remember the demons that wondered and asked Jesus, “Have you come here to torment us before the time” (Matthew 8:29)?  It is Jesus who will torment the demons, not the other way around!

Jesus won the victory on the cross; He paid our sins in full right there (Colossians 2:15). Jesus didn’t have to make a deal with the devil; those demonic forces weren’t going to have a beat down session in hell with Christ as the whipping boy. This is why Paul preaches Christ, and Him crucified, not Christ, and Him suffering in hell (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Amazing signs

Mark 15:33-39 / Matthew 27:51-54…

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. This was no natural event. The darkness reflected the truth that this was the time when the Son of God was suffering the wrath of a just and holy Father God against sin. It was the Lamb of God, Jesus, in our place (Isaiah 53:10-11 / 2 Corinthians 5:21).

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the temple (Exodus 26:31-35) was large (60 feet long and 30 feet wide), and as thick as a man’s hand. Christians see this event as a sign that we can all now enter into the presence of God. Jesus is our High Priest (Hebrews 9:3-12, 10:19-23).

The tombs also were opened. Jesus is the proof of the principle of resurrection. The destruction of death was foreshadowed by this powerful evidence, when many holy people were raised from their graves to testify about Him, that Jesus would be the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Everyone who has ever lived will actually live forever. But not all have a saving faith in Jesus Christ. The truth is that all will be resurrected at some point, some to eternal life, and some to suffer the second death, which is eternal damnation (John 5:28-29 / Acts 24:15).  Death will be dead (1 Corinthians 15:26 / Revelation 20:5-6, 13-15).

And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last…The centurion in charge of this crucifixion could clearly see that Jesus was different, and the darkness and earthquake that accompanied Jesus’ death clearly indicated that He was divine.

What say you to these amazing signs?